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Full text of "John Branch, 1782-1863, governor of North Carolina, United States senator, secretary of the navy, member of Congress, governor of Florida, etc"

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JOHN BRANCH 

1782-1863 

Governor of North Carolina, United States Senator, 

Secretary of the Navy, Member of Congress, 

Governor of Florida, etc. 



BY 
MARSHALL DeLANCEY HAYWOOD 

Author of "Governor William Tryon and His Administration in the Province of North 

Carolina, 1765-1771," "Lives of the Bishops of North Carolina," "Ballads 

of Courageous Carolinians," etc. 




Reprinted from 

THE NORTH CAROLINA BOOKLET 

October. 1915 




JOHN BRANCH 

1782-1863 

Governor of North Carolina, United States Senator, Secretary of the Navy, 

MicMHEK OF Congress, Govkknor of Florida, etc. 



JOHN BRANCH 

1782-1863 

Governor of North Carolina, United States Senator, 

Secretary of the Navy, Member of Congress, 

Governor of Florida, etc. 



BY 

MARSHALL DeLANCEY HAYWOOD 

I 

Author of "Governor W^illiam Tryon and His Administration in the Province of North 

Carolina, 1765-1771," "Lives of the Bishops of North Carolina," "Ballads 

of Courageous Carolinians," etc. 



Reprinted from 

THE NORTH CAROLINA BOOKLET 

October, 1915 



Raleigh, N. C: 

Commercial Printing Company 

1915 









^915 









JOHN BRANCH 



By Mabshaul DeLancet Haywood, 

Author of "Governor William Tryon and His Administration in the 
Province of North Carolina, 17G5-1771," "Lives of the 
Bishops of North Carolina," "Ballads of Coura- 
geous Carolinians," etc. 



Before the office of Secretary of the Navy was created, 
the functions which were later performed by the occupant of 
that office devolved upon the Chairman of the Committee on 
ISTaval Affairs in the old Continental Congress, and Joseph 
Hewes, of North Carolina — a Eevolutionary statesman, who 
made his name immortal by signing the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence — was the first person who held that post. Since 
the Revolution, five North Carolinians have, at different pe- 
riods of our country's history, entered the President's official 
family in the capacity of Secretary of the Navy, viz. : John 
Branch, in the Cabinet of President Jackson; George Ed- 
mund Badger, in the Cabinet of the first President Harrison ; 
William Alexander Graham, in the Cabinet of President Fill- 
more; James Cochran Dobbin, in the Cabinet of President 
Pierce; and Josephus Daniels (present incumbent), in the 
Cabinet of President Wilson. It is the purpose of the writer 
of this sketch to give an account of the distinguished services, 
both State and National;;' of the first of these five cabinet 
officials. ' ' ' 

JoHiq- Branch, three times Speaker of the Senate of North 
Carolina, three times Governor of that State, a member of 
the United States Senate and National House of Representa- 
tives, Secretary of the Navy, member of the North Carolina 



ii JOHN BRANCH 

Constitutional Convention of 1835, last Governor of the Ter- 
ritory of Florida, and first Acting Governor of the State of 
Florida, was born in the town of Halifax, in Halifax County, 
North Carolina, on the 4th day of JSTovember, 1782, at a time 
when his father, Lieutenant-Colonel John Branch, was 
bravely participating in the War for American Independence, 
then drawing to a successful close. The services of the Revo- 
lutionary patriot, last mentioned, were useful and varied. 
He was High Sheriff of the County of Halifax at the outbreak 
of the war; and, while acting in that capacity, was a terror 
to the Tories in that vicinity. The records of the Committee 
of Safety tell us that he brought disaffected persons before 
the committee and "prayed condign punishment upon them." 
Ho was a Justice of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions 
(a tribunal made up of all the magistrates of the county) 
from December 23, 1776, until after the close of hostilities. 
On February 11, 1780, he became Lieutenant-Colonel of the 
Halifax Regiment of ISTorth Carolina Militia; and, as such, 
served for a while in the army of General Greene. In 1781 
he was one of the State Auditors for the Halifax District. 
He was a member of the House of Commons at two sessions 
during the war, 1781 and 1782 ; and once in 1788, after the 
return of peace. He likewise served as a delegate to the Con- 
vention of IsTorth Carolina which rejected the proposed Con- 
stitution of the United States in 1788 — he voting with the 
majority to reject. For many years after the war he held 
a seat in the Council of State, during the administrations of 
Governors Richard Dobbs Spaight (the elder), Samuel Ashe, 
Benjamin Williams, and James Turner. Colonel Branch 
survived the Revolution nearly twenty-five years. He be- 
longed to the Masonic fraternity^ acd was a member of Royal 
White Hart Lodge, No. 2, in thfe-iown of Halifax. A con- 
temporaneous newspaper announcement of his death said : 

"Departed this life, on the 14th of March, 1806, at Elk Marsh, in 
Halifax County, N. Carolina, Col. John Branch, a soldier of the 
Revolution. Of this good man, the voice of panegyric is wont to 



JOHN BRANCH 6 

sound praises in the most exalted strain. As a man, he was brave, 
open, and ingenuous ; as a citizen, active and useful ; as a husband, 
father, and master, he was kind, tender, and affectionate. The child 
of sorrow found in him a protector ; the man of worth, a sincere 
friend ; the poor and needy sought shelter beneath his hospitable 
roof, and a numerous circle of acquaintances will partake of his 
glad cheer no more forever. His morning sun was fair and un- 
clouded ; its meridian, bright and effulgent; and its descending rays 
insured him a glorious immortality." 

In the Will of Colonel Branch, he left (among other prop- 
erty) to his son Joseph "ten thousand acres of land in the 
State of Tennessee, on the waters of Duck River." By the 
same will, Joseph was given a 600-acre tract called "The 
Cellar," near Enfield. "The Cellar" or "Cellar Field" was 
afterward owned and occupied by Governor Branch, who 
probably purchased it from his brother. 

Colonel John Branch, Sr., was twice married : first, to 
Kebecca Bradford (daughter of Colonel John Bradford and 
his wife. Patience Reed), and left by her the following five 
children : 

I. James Branch, who was twice married and left an only 
child, who died young, upon which his property (by the 
terms of his Will) reverted to his brothers and sisters. 

II. Martha Branch, who married General Ely Benton 
Whitaker. 

III. John Branch, Jr., subject of the present sketch, who 
married (first) Elizabeth Eoort, and (second) Mrs. Mary 
Eliza Bond, nee Jordan. 

IV. Joseph Branch, who married Susan Simpson O'Bryan, 
and removed to Tennessee, where he died in 1827, at the 
town of Franklin, leaving (among other children) Lawrence 
O'Bryan Branch, of North Carolina, who becam,^ a Brigadier- 
General in the Confederate Army, and was killed at the 
Battle of Sharpsburg, otherwise known as Antietam. 

V. Patience W. Branch, who married the Reverend Daniel 
Southall. 



4 JOHN BRANCH 

The second wife of Colonel John Branch, Sr., was Eliza- 
beth Norwood, daughter of John I^orwood, and a sister of 
Judge William Norwood, of Hillsborough, North Carolina. 
By her he left the three following children : 

I. William Joseph Branch, who married Rosa Williams 
Harriss. 

II. Washington Lenoir Branch, who married Martha Anna 
Lewis. 

III. Elizabeth Ann Branch, who married (first) Gideon 
Alston, and (second) the Eeverend William Burge. 

As already stated, one of the sons of Colonel John Branch 
was John Branch (known as John Branch, Jr., during his 
father's lifetime), and to the latter's career we shall now con- 
fine this sketch. 

It was in the General Assembly of North Carolina, which 
convened at Raleigh on the 18th of November, 1811, that 
John Branch, our present subject, made his first appear- 
ance in public life, having been elected State Senator from 
the county of Halifax. So acceptable were his services to 
the people of his county that he was repeatedly re-elected. 
Twice during the Second War with Great Britain, in 1813 
and 1814, he was State Senator; and, as such, was a firm 
supporter of the measures of the National and State admin- 
istrations in prosecuting that war. He was chairman of the 
Joint Legislative Committee which presented resolutions of 
censure (December 15, 1813) against the Honorable David 
Stone, in a tone so severe as to cause that gentleman to resign 
from the United States Senate, and make place for a more 
active supporter of the war measures demanded by the people 
of North Cal'^'olina. Mr. Branch had attained so high a repu- 
tation that when he was next sent to the State Senate, in 
1815, that body unanimously elected him Speaker — the pre- 
siding officer of the Senate then being called Speaker, instead 
of having the more recent title of President. He was again 
State Senator and again unanimously elected Speaker, at the 



JOHN BRANCH 

two following sessions of 1816 and 1817. On the 3d of 
December, 1817, while serving his third term as Speaker of 
the State Senate, Mr. Branch was elected Governor of North 
Carolina by a joint ballot of the General Assembly — the office 
of Governor then being annually filled by the Legislature, 
and not by popular choice. On the day after his election as 
Governor, Mr. Branch sent in his resignation, both as Speaker 
and member of the Senate, whereupon that body unanimously 
passed the following resolution: 

"Resolved, That the thanks of this House be presented to the late 
Speaker thereof, Colonel John Branch, for the able and impartial 
manner in which he has discharged the duties of the chair ; and that 
a select committee of this House, composed of Mr. Murphey and Mr. 
Pickett, be appointed to wait on Colonel Branch and make known to 
him this Resolution." 

Mr. Branch was re-elected Governor on ISTovember 24, 
1818; and elected for the third time on November 25, 1819, 
serving until December 7, 1820. In his official correspond- 
ence, and messages to the General Assembly, we see evidences 
of sagacity and foresight, while the humaneness of his dis- 
position is shown by efforts to secure alterations of the over- 
severe penal laws of the time in which he lived. 

Though Mr. Branch was elected Governor in 1817, he was 
not inaugurated until December 6 th in that year, when the 
General Assembly had transacted most of its business, and 
hence it was not until the Legislature of 1818 convened that 
he transmitted his views on public matters, in the shape of 
an annual message, on November 18th in that year. Concern- 
ing education he then said : 

"In a government like ours, where the sovereignty resides in the 
people, and where all power emanates from, and, at stated periods, 
returns to them for the purpose of being again delegated, it is of the 
last importance to the well being and to the existence of government 
that the public mind should be enlightened. Our sage and patriotic 
ancestors who achieved the liberties of our country, and to whom we 
are indebted for our present benign and happy form of government, 
duly impressed with the magnitude of the subject, and anxiously 
solicitous to impart stability to our institutions, and to transmit to 



6 JOHN BRANCH 

posterity the inestimable boon for which they fought and bled, have, 
as regards this subject, with more than parental caution, imposed the 
most solemn obligations on all of those who may be called to admin- 
ister the government. Permit me, therefore, to refer you in a par- 
ticular manner to this solemn injunction contained in the Constitu- 
tion of the State of North Carolina, Article XLI, 'that a school or 
schools shall be established by the Legislature for the convenient 
instruction of youth, with such salaries to the masters, to be paid by 
the public, as may enable them to instruct at low prices ; and all use- 
ful learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted in one or more 
Universities.' Let it be recollected that by this chart we are bound 
as the servants of the people, under the solemnities of an oath, to 
steer the vessel of state; and when we connect this imperious duty 
with the luminous and impressive appeals which have so often been 
made to the Legislature for the last year or two, I apprehend that 
nothing that I could add would impart additional force. It surely 
will not be denied that it is a subject, of all others, in a republican 
government, of the most vital importance : for it is in this way, and 
this alone, that our republican institutions can be perpetuated, or that 
radical changes can be effected in the morals and manners of the 
people." 

In this message the Governor also commended the cause of 
internal improvements, dvrelt upon the banking system of 
that day and other matters not of present interest, and earn- 
estly recommended that punishments under the criminal law 
should be made less severe. The desirability of establishing 
a penitentiary was also discussed, imprisonment therein to 
supplant the many capital punishments then imposed by the 
statutes. 

It is a fact not generally known that the Supreme Court of 
North Carolina was established in pursuance of a recommen- 
dation contained in the above-mentioned annual message, 
which Governor Branch sent to the Legislature on November 
18, 1818. Before that time, the highest judicial tribunal in 
the State had been called the Supreme Court, but the Su- 
preme Court of North Carolina, in its present form, was not 
organized until the year just mentioned. In his message, 
Governor Branch dwelt at some length on the inconveniences 
of the court procedure then existing, and closed by saying: 
"I will take the liberty of recommending that three additional 



JOHN BRANCH i 

judges be appointed to preside in our Supreme Court, with 
sufficient salaries attached to the offices to command the first 
legal talents of the State." IsTo time was lost by the Legisla- 
ture in acting upon the Governor's recommendation, for Chap- 
ter I. at that session established the Supreme Court, and 
Chapter II. made some supplemental provisions defining its 
jurisdiction. The new Court first convened on January 1, 
1819, John Louis Taylor presiding as Chief Justice, with 
Leonard Henderson and John Hall as Associates — worthy 
fore-runners of the long line of eminent jurists who have 
since given North Carolina a rank second to none in the judi- 
cial annals of America. 

Governor Branch's interest in the cause of public education 
never flagged ; and, when the next session of the State Legis- 
lature convened, he renewed his former recommendations, 
saying in his annual message, dated November 17, 1819: 

"In the first place, as claiming a pre-eminence above all others, 
allow me to call your attention to the subject of the education of 
youth, the only durable basis of everything valuable in a government 
of the people, and to press on your attention the moral and political 
obligations which you are under, created and imposed by the solemn 
injunctions of the Constitution, to patronize and encourage a general 
diffusion of knowledge ; for, when we advert to the languishing con- 
dition of some of our nurseries of science, and observe the apathy 
which prevails in regard to their advancement, it becomes a subject 
of no less astonishment than regret." 

In the same message Governor Branch speaks in terms of 

emphatic condemnation of one of the most oppressive and 

unjust laws of that day, as follows : 

"Imprisonment for debt must be considered as a kind of punishment 
which is inflicted at the mercy of the creditor, and must often be 
exercised upon objects where pity and not punishment is due. In 
truth it seems to be a remnant of that Gothic policy which prevailed 
during the ruder ages of society — a policy as barbarous as it is use- 
less, and it is to me strange that it should so long have been suffered 
to disgrace the code of laws of a State which might otherwise boast 
of its freedom and humanity." 

This message likewise refers to another law, then on the 
statute books, which provided that a person convicted of per- 



8 JOHN BRANCH 

jury should have his ears cropped off and nailed to the pillory, 

in these words: 

"The cruel and sanguinary nature of the punishment inflicted on 
those guilty of perjury, and probably some other offences, without 
reference to the different degrees of criminality, are well worthy of 
legislative animadversion. The certainty of punishment, it is uni- 
versally admitted, has more influence in preventing the commission 
of crimes than its severity. Hence it is desirable to apportion, as 
nearly as practicable, the punishment to the enormity of the offence." 

Love for the memory of Washington by the people of North 
Carolina had moved a former Legislature to provide for the 
making of a marble statue of the Father of his Country, by 
the great sculptor Canova, to be placed in the rotunda of the 
Capitol, and to give an order to the artist Thomas Sully for 
two full-length portraits of the same great patriot — one to 
be hung in each of the two Houses of the General Assembly. 
In a special message, dated November 23, 1819, Governor 
Branch announced that the statue would soon be ready for 
delivery, and suggested that the State content itself with one 
portrait of Washing-ton. He said : 

"However much we may be disposed to honor the virtue and perpet- 
uate the fame of the immortal patriot, yet it appears to me that it 
will look a little like overdoing the matter to have a marble statue 
and two portraits of the same person in the same building." 

The advice of the Governor was followed by the Legisla- 
ture, which procured one portrait instead of two. This por- 
trait (copied by Sully from Stuart's original) was saved 
from the burning Capitol in which Canova's statue was de- 
stroyed, June 21, 1831, and still adorns the walls of the 
House of Kepresentatives in Ealeigh. 

The wisdom and foresic;lit of Governor Branch were strik- 
ingly displayed in his last annual message, November 22, 
1820, when he referred to impostors in the medical profession, 
and urged a system of regulation for the government of physi- 
cians. This was his language : 

"The science of medicine, so vitally interesting to our citizens and 
so well deserving of legislative attention, has as yet, with a few excep- 



JOHN BRANCH 9 

tions, passed unnoticed and unprotected. And it must be admitted, 
however unpleasant the admission, that there are but few States in 
the Union, where medicine is in a less reputable condition than in 
North Carolina. The question naturally occurs, why is this the case? 
The answer is obvious. Because, in almost every other part of the 
country, a medical education, regularly acquired, and formally com- 
pleted at some public medical university, or satisfactory testimonials 
of professional ability from some respectable and legally constituted 
Board of Physicians, is essential to the attainment of public respect 
and public confidence. 

"Hitherto the time of our annual sessions has been almost exclus- 
ively devoted to the preservation and security of property, while the 
lives, health, and happiness of a numerous and intelligent population 
have been left at the mercy of every pretender; and thousands and 
tens of thousands of our fellow-citizens, I might say, have fallen vic- 
tims to the empirical efforts of a host of intruders. 

"The youth of our State who have been reared and educated for the 
profession, with that native modesty which I trust will ever charac- 
terize them, advance with becoming diffidence in their avocations, 
while the more adventurous quack, presuming on the ignorance and 
credulity of the people, runs off with the spoil. This certainly in no 
one instance can last long; but, from the facility with which these 
persons change quarters, and from the eagerness with which afflicted 
humanity seizes the offered relief, the first fruits are but too often 
gathered by the rash though ignorant practitioner. Under these cir- 
cumstances, what inducements have our young men to trudge up the 
rugged hill of science and spend their time and patrimony in laying 
the foundation for future usefulness? True, the intellectual triumph 
is exquisite ; but, of itself, it is insufficient to sustain the diffident and 
desponding youth who finds himself pressed by so many difficulties, 
and finds, too, that his very sustenance is taken from him by the 
characters above alluded to. 

"Again, it must be mortifying to see our young men constrained to 
abandon their native State in pursuit of medical science abroad, 
where, too often, in reaping the fruits of science, foreign principles 
and foreign habits are formed, not only opposed to the genius and 
spirit of our government, but measurably disqualifying them in other 
respects for useful life — thus exhausting, as it were, the last earn- 
ings of parental industry and frugality to obtain what might, with 
little effort, be as well obtained at home. Let me, however, observe, 
what may be deemed superfluous, that this Medical Board will not 
prejudice the pretensions of any practitioner of the present day, for 
its operations must necessarily be prospective. 

"This subject presents so many interesting points, and in truth is 
so susceptible of illustration, that I must believe it is only necessary 



10 JOHN BRANCH 

to interest the mind of the intelligent statesmen to perceive its im- 
portance. 

"I am aware that some diversity of sentiment may be expected as 
to the manner in which the Medical Board, above alluded to, should 
be established ; but that it is not only practicable but highly expe- 
dient, none, I think, can rationally doubt when they advert to the uni- 
form success which has attended the efforts of many of our sister 
States. Let me then entreat you, as the guardians of the people's best 
interests, to give this subject, of all others the most interesting, a 
full, fair, and dispassionate consideration." 

Under the State Constitution then in force, Governor 
Branch was not eligible for more than three terms in succes- 
sion, and in his last message he made (by way of conclusion) 
warm acknowledgments to the Legislature for past honors, in 
the following words : 

"I shall now, gentlemen, close this desultory address ; and, in doing 
so, permit me to tender you, and through you my fellow-citizens 
generally, the unfeigned homage of my respect and gratitude. If, in 
the discharge of the duties attached to the Executive Office, my con- 
duct has been such as to give efficacy to a government of laws — to 
impart in the smallest degree vitality and energy to the benign and 
happy institutions under which we live, and finally to meet the ap- 
probation of my fellow-citizens, I can confidently say that my highest 
ambition will have been gratified, and that my fondest and most 
ardent anticipations have been realized." 

While Mr. Branch filled the Executive Chair in Raleigh, 
a little incident occurred (communicated to the writer by the 
Governor's gTanddaughter, Mrs. Eppes) which makes an in- 
teresting story. On going to his tailor's on one occasion, a 
small boy employed in the shop ran out and held his horse. 
After finishing his business, the Governor spoke kindly to the 
little fellow and tossed him half a dollar as he rode away. 
More than forty-five years thereafter, in June, 1865, when 
one of Governor Branch's daughters returned to her home in 
Tennessee, which she had left a few years earlier to be near 
her husband, Major-General Daniel S. Donelson, of the Con- 
federate Army, who had died in 1863, she found the place in 
a state of dilapidation and filth, with wood-work and furnish- 
ings wantonly broken and defaced, and the building occupied 
by a Federal officer, who refused to yield possession of the 



JOHN BKANCH 11 

place, though the war was over. Mrs. Donelson had made 
the trip from Florida in wagons, accompanied by some of 
her former slaves, and under the escort of her brother-in-law, 
Mr. Arvah Hopkins. Having occasion to continue his jour- 
ney by rail to jSTew York, Mr. Hopkins stopped in Washington 
and obtained an interview with President Johnson, to whom 
he explained the treatment Mrs. Donelson had received. 
After listening attentively, the President had an order issued 
and forwarded by telegraph to the occupant of the Donelson 
house to vacate it immediately, to have the premises cleaned, 
and workmen employed to repair such damage as the place 
had received. Then turning to Mr. Hopkins, he said: "I 
thank you, sir, for telling me of Mrs. Donelson's predicament. 
I wouldn't have missed this opportunity of doing a favor to 
a member of Governor Branch's family for anything in the 
world. He gave me the first fifty-cent piece I ever owned." 
Then the "Tailor-Boy President" related to Mr. Hopkins the 
small act of kindness shown by the Governor of a great State 
to little Andy Johnson, a penniless orphan in Raleigh nearly 
half a century before — an act which no doubt escaped Gover- 
nor Branch's own memory less than an hour after it occurred. 
Although Governor Branch's very soul abhorred the cruel 
laws of his day which inflicted punishments, severe out of all 
proportion, for many comparatively trivial crimes, and 
though he freely exercised the pardoning prerogative in such 
cases, no earthly power could move him to interfere where 
he deemed it proper and just for the law to take its course. 
During his term of ofiice, a case arose in Raleigh where an 
intoxicated young white man had stabbed to the heart an in- 
offensive negro slave, and was sentenced to death therefor. 
A perfect avalanche of petitions and protests from practically 
the entire population of Raleigh was thereupon showered upon 
the Governor, asking a pardon. Among the many who sought 
clemency for the condemned were several State ofiicers, one 
hundred and twenty-three ladies, and young Frederick Ster- 
ling Marshall, owner of the slave who had been killed. The 
prisoner's youth, his belated contrition and penitence, his al- 



12 JOHN BRANCH 

leged temporary "deranaement of understanding," the in- 
solence and insubordination which the petitioners declared 
would be encouraged among the negroes by putting the life 
of a freeman and of a slave upon the same footing, and many 
other considerations were urgently set forth without avail, 
and the prisoner died on the gallows on the 10th of November, 
1S20 — notice being thereby served on the world that all 
human lives, those of the humble and dependent slaves as well . 
as of their masters, were under the protection of the law in 
North Carolina. 

Though always resentful of Northern interference, thought- 
ful men throughout the South were seeking a solution of the 
slavery problem for nearly three-quarters of a century before 
the outbreak of the War between the States. One of the experi- 
ments tried was the organization of the American Coloniza- 
tion Society in 1816, with Judge Bushrod Washington, of 
Virginia, as president. The object of this society was to 
take charge of such negroes as might from time to time be 
emancipated, and form a colony of them in Africa. Local 
branches of this association were formed in various cities 
throughout the South. On June 12, 1819, the Reverend Wil- 
liam Meade, afterwards Bishop of Virginia (who proved his 
sincerity by freeing his own negroes), visited Raleigh and 
organized a local society. Governor Branch presided over the 
session which was then held, and became first president of the 
Raleigh organization, which later made considerable contri- 
butions in money for the furtherance of the plans set forth in 
the constitution of the society, $1,277.50 being subscribed at 
the first meeting. The full list of ofiicers was as follows : Gov- 
ernor Branch, President; and Colonel William Polk, Chief 
Justice John Louis Taylor, Judge Leonard Henderson, and 
Archibald Henderson, Vice-Presidents. The board of 
managers consisted of State Treasurer John Haywood, Judge 
Henry Potter, General Calvin Jones, General Beverly Daniel, 
the Reverend William McPheeters, Dr. Albridgton S. H. 
Surges, Dr. Jeremiah Battle, the Reverend John Evans, 



JOHN BKANCH 13 

Secretary of State William Hill, Thomas P. Devereiix, 
Joseph Ross, and Moses Mordecai. The secretary was Joseph 
Gales, and Daniel Du Pre was treasurer. This list of officers 
(to which some additions were later made) is set forth in the 
Raleigh Register, of June 18, 1819. 

In the General Assembly of North Carolina which con- 
vened on the ISth of November, 1822, Ex-Governor Branch 
was present as State Senator from Halifax County. On De- 
cember 1-lth, after a prolonged contest, that Legislature 
elected him United States Senator, for a term beginning 
March 4, 1823, as successor to Montfort Stokes. 

From the Annals of Congress, for December 2, 1823, we 
learn that, on that day "John Branch, appointed a Senator 
by the Legislature of the State of North Carolina, for ths 
term of six years, commencing on the 4th day of March last, 
produced his credentials, which were read, and the oath pre- 
scribed by law was administered to him". 

It is not the purpose of the present writer to attempt a 
detailed account of Mr. Branch's career in the United States 
Senate. The records show that he was one of the' leading de- 
baters in that august body— a body presided over by Calhoun, 
and made up of such men as Thomas H. Benton, Robert Y. 
Hayne, Martin Van Buren, John McPherson Berrien, Hugh 
Lawson White, William Henry Harrison, William R. King, 
Nathaniel Macon, and others of scarcely less note. While in 
the Senate, Mr. Branch advocated, as he had formerly done 
when Governor of North Carolina, the abolition of imprison- 
ment for deljt. Of the pension bill which provided for the 
relief of Revolutionary officers, to the exclusion of privates, he 
was a pronounced opponent, declaring that "he never would 
consent to place the officer, who had reaped the laurels of 
victory, on a different foundation from the private soldier 
who stood by the flag of his country, stimulated alone by 
patriotism." Internal improvements by the General Govern- 
ment he usually opposed, believing that this class of work 
should be done by the States wherein the improvements 



14 JOHN BRANCH 

were made, while harbors, rivers, canals and other waterways 
should receive the care of Congress, It is said that Mr. 
Branch's opposition to the Senate's confirmation of Henry 
Clay as Secretary of State, in 1825, first won for him the 
friendship of Andrew Jackson, between whom and the great 
Kentnckian little love existed. 

When Senator Branch's first term was drawing to an end, 
the General Assembly of N'orth Carolina, on iN'ovember 24, 
1828, unanimously re-elected him for six years more, to begin 
on March 4, 1829. He did not enter upon this second 
senatorial term, however, owing to a higher honor which 
fell to his lot a few days after his first term expired. 

On the 9th day of March, 1829, President Jackson sent to 
the United States Senate the nomination of John Branch, 
of ISTorth Carolina, for the office of Secretary of the ISJ'avy. 
This nomination being duly confirmed. Secretary Branch 
went to North Carolina to arrange some private affairs and 
to tender his resignation, as United States Senator, to Gov- 
ernor Owen. The selection of Mr. Branch as a member of 
the President's Cabinet was naturally a source of great 
gratification to his friends in ISTorth Carolina and elsewhere ; 
and, in the month following his appointment, the citizens 
of his native county of Halifax were preparing in his honor 
a great public entertainment, but this proffered courtesy he 
Was forced regretfully to decline, owing to a promise to the 
President that he would return to his new post as head of the 
Navy Department with the least possible delay. 

In the latter part of December, 1834, while a member of 
the Legislature of 1834-'35, to which he was elected after 
the expiration of his term in Congress which followed his 
Cabinet service, Mr. Branch made a speech in which he gave 
an interesting account of his official association with Presi- 
dent Jackson. Concerning his appointment as Secretary of 
the Navy he said : 

"Without solicitation ou my part, he [President Jackson] desired 
me to become a member of his Cabinet, and take charge of the Navy 



JOHN" BRANCH 15 

Department. I returned him my warmest acknowledgments for so 
distinguished an evidence of liis confidence, but remarked that I 
doubted my ability to discharge the duties of that Department, either 
to my own satisfaction or that of my country, and that I must ask 
time to consult with my friends. To this he consented, and I prom- 
ised to call and give him an answer next evening. The first person I 
asked counsel of was my friend and colleague. Governor Iredell, now 
perhaps within hearing of my voice, a gentleman whose high claims 
to confidence are universally acknowledged, and (to borrow a figure 
of the gentleman from Warren) whose inherent virtues and talents 
rendered him peculiarly fit to perform so delicate an office. He un- 
hesitatingly said that, inasmuch as it was the first appointment of 
that grade ever tendered to a citizen of North Carolina, and as it was 
an honor intended to be conferred on the State through me, I was 
not at liberty to decline. The next friend with whom I consulted was 
the Senator from Burke [Samuel P. Carson], then a member of the 
House of Representatives of the United States — a friend Indeed I 
may call him, a friend while in favor, but still more a friend when 
in adversity. His merits and just claims on the State I will speak 
of elsewhere. His counsels were substantially the same as those of 
Governor Iredell. I then sought interviews with many others ; and, 
finding there was but one opinion among my friends as to the course 
proper for me to pursue, I in due time signified my acceptance of 
the trust." 

On December 1, 1829, Secretary Branch sent his first 
annual report to President Jackson. It told of the movements 
of various vessels in different parts of the world — the 
Mediterranean Sea, West Indian and South American 
waters, the Atlantic, Pacific, etc. It also gave a list of Navy 
Yards and Hospitals, and recommended in the strongest terms 
the establishment of a iNaval School, where junior officers 
might be given a finished education, with especial attention 
paid to modern languages. Such instruction, said he, would 
be of gi'eat service during foreign cruises, while officers were 
in contact with the representatives of other nations. Many 
of the older officers, the Secretary intimated, were more of a 
hindrance than a help to the service, and should be relieved 
from active duty. He observed, however, that as these officers 
had formerly rendered honorable and useful service to the 
Government, ample provision should be made for their main- 



16 JOHN BRANCH 

tenance in retirement. He also recommended a revision of 

the laws respecting the Marine Corps. Piracy had not then 

been blotted out of existence, and he gave some account of 

operations against these depredators on American commerce. 

The pay of Naval officers, as compared vs^ith officers of relative 

rank in the Army, he said was unjustly inadequate, and 

should be increased. 

In the message to Congress from President Jackson, he 

called attention to the annual report of Secretary Branch, as 

follows : 

"The accompanying report of the Secretary of the Navy will make 
you acquainted with the condition and useful employment of that 
branch of our service during the present year. Constituting, as it 
does, the best standing security of this country against foreign aggres- 
sion, it claims the especial attention of the Government. In this 
spirit the measures which, since the termination of the last war, have 
been in operation for its gradual enlargement, were adopted ; and it 
should continue to be cherished as the offspring of our national expe- 
rience." 

A few weeks before the entrance of Secretary Branch upon 
his duties as head of the Navy Department, Congress took 
its first action toward attempting to lessen the use of strong 
drink among junior officers of the Navy. On February 25, 
1829,* the House of Representatives passed a Resolution in- 
structing the Secretary of the Navy ''to require three of the 
Medical Officers of the Navy, whom he shall designate, to 
report to him their opinions, separately, whether it is nec- 
essary or expedient that 'distilled spirits' should constitute 
a part of the rations allowed to Midshipmen." In pursuance 
of these instructions, Secretary Branch designated Surgeons 
Thomas Harris, William P. C. Barton, and Lewis Heerman ; 
and required them to give their opinions on this point. What 
these opinions were, the present writer has been unable to 
ascertain; Imt consideration of the same matter, with some 

*Strange to say, the reported proceedings of Congress for Febru- 
ary 25, 1829, fail to mention this matter, but manuscript letters in 
the Navy Department quote the language of the resolution of that 
date. 



JOHN BKANCH iT 

additions as to enlisted men, was again taken up by Congress 
one year (to the very day) after its first action. On D'obruary 
25, 1830, the Honorable Lewis Condict, a member of Con- 
gress from Kew Jersey and a physician by profession, in- 
troduced the following resolutions in the House of Represen- 
tatives : 

"1. Resolved, That the Committee on Naval Affairs be instructed to 
inquire into the expediency of inducing the seamen and marines in 
the Navy of the United States voluntarily to discontinue the use of 
ardent spirits, or vinous or fermented liquors, by substituting for it 
double its value in other necessaries and comforts whilst in the ser- 
vice, or in money payable at the expiration of the service. 

"2. Resolved, also, As a further inducement to sobriety and orderly 
deportment in the Navy, as well as with a view to preserve the lives 
and morals of the seamen and marines, that said committee be in- 
structed to inquire into the expedience of allowing some additional 
bounty, in money or clothing, or both, to be paid to every seaman 
or marine, at the expiration of his service, who shall produce from 
his commanding officer a certificate of total abstinence from ardent 
spirits, and of orderly behaviour, during the term of his engagement. 

"3. Resolved, also, That the said committee inquire and report 
whether or not the public service, as well as the health, morals, and 
honor of the Naval officers would be promoted by holding out to the 
Midshipmen and junior officers some further inducements and incen- 
tives to abstinence from all intoxicating liquors." 

In introducing these resolutions. Congressman Condict 
said similar ones had already been before the Committee on 
Military Affairs, which recommended such action with respect 
to the Army; but had refused to make any recommendation 
concerning the ]N^avy, as the latter branch of the service was 
considered outside of that committee's jurisdiction. What 
effect, if any, these resolutions had, the present writer is un- 
able to say. It was not until some years later that the use 
of liquor on ship-board by enlisted men was peremptorily 
forbidden. In 1914, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daidels 
made a similar prohibitory order applicable to commissioned 
officers also. 

The second (and last) annual report of Secretary Branch 
bears date December 6, 1830, and is much similar in character 
to the first. It contains little matter which would be of 
2 



18 JOHN BEANCH 

present interest. N^ot including many antiquated vessels 
which were laid up for repairs, or discarded, the ships then 
actively in commission consisted of five frigates, ten sloops 
of war and four schooners — a very diminutive armament 
when judged by present standards. Indeed, Secretary Branch 
was an avowed opponent of the policy of maintaining a 
large Navy in days of peace, which was an evidence of his 
wisdom when we consider the fact that he lived in the time 
of wooden vessels, when several hundred ship carpenters 
could build a fleet in a few weeks, as had been demonstrated 
on the Great Lakes during the War of 1812-'15. 

Soon after Jackson's inauguration, a small coterie of his 
personal friends was gathered about him, consisting of Gen- 
eral Duff Green, editor of the United States Telegraph, organ 
of the administration ; Major William B. Lewis, of Tennessee, 
Second Auditor of the Treasury; Isaac Hill, editor of the 
New Hampshire Patriot; and Amos Kendall, Fourth Auditor 
of the Treasury, former editor of a Jackson paper in Ken- 
tucky. As these gentlemen were supposed to have more 
influence over the President's actions than did his official 
advisers, the opposition derisively styled them "the Kitchen 
Cabinet". Some time later, upon the rupture between 
Jackson and Calhoun, Green cast his fortunes with the latter. 
Thereupon, the elder Francis P. Blair came to Washington 
to establish a new administration organ, the Globe, and he 
was afterwards classed as a member of "the Kitchen Cabinet" 
as Green's successor. Of the newspaper war which followed, 
it has been truly said that "there were rich revelations made 
to the public." 

When first inducted into office, President Jackson had made 
up his official family as follows: Martin Van Buren, of 
New York, Secretary of State; Samuel D. Ingham, of 
Pennsylvania, Secretary of the Treasury; John H. Eaton, 
of Tennessee, Secretary of War ; John Branch, of North Caro- 
lina, Secretary of the Navy; John McPherson Berrien, of 
Georgia, Attorney General ; and William T. Barry, of Ken- 



JOHN BRANCH 19 

tuckj, Postmaster General. This first Cabinet was later 
dissolved, after a stormy controversy between the President 
and three of these gentlemen — not in consequence of any 
divergence of opinion or disagreements on the public policies 
of the day, but because Mrs. Branch, Mrs. Berrien, and Mrs. 
Ingham refused to pay social visits to Mrs. Eaton, or invite 
her to parties given in their homes. This Mrs. Eaton, wife 
of the Secretary of War, was the daughter of William 0'l!^eal, 
a tavern-keeper in Washington, and gTew to womanhood in 
her father's establishment. Peggy O'Neal, as she was fami- 
liarly known in her younger days, was vivacious, pretty, and 
apparently not possessed of as much prudence and decorum 
as might be desired, in consequence of which the Washing- 
ton gossips (male and female) had whispered light tales 
concerning her for many years past. Her first husband. 
Purser Timberlake of the N"avy, had committed suicide while 
stationed in the Mediterranean, leaving her with two small 
children. Among the boarders who spent much time at her 
father's inn were General Jackson and Major Eaton. After 
her first husband's death, Major Eaton (then a widower) be- 
came so much enamored of Mrs. Timberlake that he con- 
sulted his friend General Jackson about the propriety of 
seeking her in marriage. The gallant Gemeral strongly ad- 
vised such a course. Major Eaton then mentioned — what 
was no news to Jackson — that many damaging reports had 
been spread broadcast concerning this lady, and that he him- 
self (Major Eaton) had been credited with being over-inti- 
mate with her. "Well," said Jackson, "your marrying her 
will disprove these charges and restore Peg's good name." 
Accordingly Major Eaton and Mrs. Timberlake were 
married in the month of January, 1829. All went well for 
a while ; but, a few months later, when a rumor began to 
gain credence that Major Eaton would be taken into the 
new President's Cabinet, the horror and consternation of 
the ladies of Washington may well be imagined. The matter 
grew even tenser after Eaton's appointment had been an- 



20 JOHN BRANCH 

noimced. With the exception of Secretary Van Buren — a 
widower with no daughters — all of the Cabinet officers were 
married men, whose wives were much given to hospitality, 
but their hospitality, even at public receptions, was never ex- 
tended to Mrs. Eaton. When Jackson wrote to John C. 
Calhoun, remonstrating about Mrs. Calhoun's action (or 
rather inaction) in this matter, the Vice President very 
sensibly replied that it was a quarrel among ladies, and he 
would have nothing to do with it. To much the same effect 
was the observation of the Secretary of the Navy, when 
first approached on this subject; and later, when President 
Jackson attempted to dictate to him the social course his 
family should pursue, he found a man as headstrong and 
determined as himself in the person of the official whom one 
of Jackson's biographers has (not over-accurately) described 
as "the weak-willed Branch." And it may be said in passing 
while referring to Jackson's biographies, that there seems 
to be no truth whatever in the oft-repeated assertion in those 
works that Branch owed his appointment to Eaton's influence. 
Branch was tendered the appointment while Jackson was still 
debating in his mind whether to make Eaton or Hugh Lawson 
White the Secretary of War — a point which he found so 
difficult to decide that he finally left the matter to be settled 
by those gentlemen themselves, when White generously with- 
drew in Eaton's favor. Concerning Branch's own opinion of 
Eaton's appointment, he said in a statement issued in 1831 : 
"Before the President had nominated Major Eaton for the 
War Department, and while the subject might be supposed 
to be under consideration, I took the liberty of stating to 
General Jackson candidly my reasons for believing the selec- 
tion would be unpopular and unfortunate." 

Even the Lady of the White House, Mrs. Andrew Jackson 
Donelson, wife of the President's nephew and private secre- 
tary, refused point-blank to call on Mrs. Eaton, whereupon 
she was promptly sent home to Tennessee, though later 
summoned back to Washington. Of his own family's con- 



JOHN BRANCH 21 

nection with this matter, we are fortunate in being able to 

give an account by Secretary Branch himself. He said: 

"About the last of May, my family came on to mingle with a 
society to which they were strangers. They found the lady of the 
Secretary of War, a native of the city, excluded from this society, 
and did not deem it their duty or right to endeavor to control or 
counteract the decisions of the ladies of Washington ; nor did they 
consider themselves at liberty to inquire whether these decisions 
were correct or otherwise. Engaged, as I was continually, with all 
the engrossing affairs of the Navy Department, I did not know at 
night whom my family had visited in the day, nor whom they had 
not; and thus the time passed without, I can conlidently assert, the 
least interference on my part, with the matters that belonged 
exclusively to them." 

Though some bachelor members of the diplomatic corps 
(notably those from Great Britain and Russia) extended so- 
cial courtesies to Mrs. Eaton in the shape of dinner parties, 
etc., the wives of other foreign ministers were no more con- 
siderate of her than were the ladies of the Cabinet. Indeed, 
the President so far lost his head in his desperate efforts to 
force Mrs. Eaton upon Washington Society that he seriously 
contemplated sending home the Minister from Holland be- 
cause that diplomat's lady had withdrawn from a dinner at 
the Russian Embassy where Mrs. Eaton was a guest. Balked 
at every turn in his efforts to secure social honors, or at least 
social recognition, for Mrs. Eaton, the President now deter- 
mined to dissolve his Cabinet, and find advisers more sub- 
servient to his wishes in social matters — for no record of 
political disagreement, at that time, between Jackson and his 
Cabinet, can be found. 

The various letters, recorded interviews, newspaper com- 
munications, etc., brought forth by the affair of Mrs. Eaton, 
both before and after her husband's appointment, would 
fill a volume, and the present writer has no desire to weary 
the reader by attempting to set them forth. On April 8, 1831, 
Secretary of War Eaton sent in his resignation; and Secre- 
tary of State Van Buren did the same three days later. Sec- 
retary of the Navy Branch resigned on April 19th ; and At- 



22 JOHN BRANCH 

torney General Berrien, then absent from Washington, sent 
the President his resignation on June 15th — Postmaster Gen- 
eral Barry being the only member of the former Cabinet 
who remained in office. In fact the office of Postmaster Gen- 
eral was not included in the Cabinet list before Jackson's 
time. The resignations of Van Buren and Eaton were re- 
ceived with many expressions of regret by the President, who 
later honored both of these gentlemen with other appoint- 
ments. Indeed, it was Jackson's influence which afterwards 
elevated Van Buren to the Presidency as his successor. At 
the time of Branch's resignation, the President intimated his 
willingTiess to send him on a foreign mission. He also of- 
fered to appoint him Territorial Governor of Florida. These 
proffered honors were declined by Mr. Branch, though he be- 
came Governor of Florida some years later by appointment 
from President Tyler. Regarding his interview with Jack- 
son just before he tendered the President his resignation, 
Secretary Branch has left the following account: 

"He commenced by saying that he had desired my attendance to 
inform me of the resignations of Mr. Van Buren and Major Eaton, 
and then a solemn pause ensued. I could but smile, and remarked 
to him that he was acting in a character nature never intended him 
for ; that he was no more a diplomatist than myself, and I wished him 
to tell me frankly what he meant. This unrestrained manner of mine 
relieved him ; and, with great apparent kindness, he spoke out his 
purpose, and asked me if there was anything abroad I wanted, adding 
that the commission for Governor of Florida was on his table, and it 
vTOuld give him pleasure to bestow it on me. To this I replied that 
I had not supported him for the sake of office, and soon after 
retired." 

After the close of the interview just mentioned, Secretary 
Branch lost no time in forwarding to the President his resig- 
nation in the following communication : 

Washington, April 19th, 1831. 
Sir: 

In the interview which I had the honor to hold with you this 
morning, I understood it to be your fixed purpose to reorganize your 



JOHN BRANCH 23 

Cabinet ; and that, as to myself, it was your wish that I should retire 
from the administration of the Navy Department. 

Under these circumstances, I take pleasure in tendering to you the 
commission, which, unsolicited on my part, you were pleased to con- 
fer on me. 

I have the honor to be, with great respect, 

Yours, &c., JOHN BRANCH. 

To the President of the United States. 

Upon receipt of this communication, President Jackson 
replied, upon the same day, in the following letter : 

Washington, April 19th, 1831. 
Sir: 

Your letter of this date, by your son, is just received — accompany- 
ing it is your commission. The sending of the latter was not neces- 
sary ; it is your own private property, and by no means to be con- 
sidered part of the archives of the Government. Accordingly I 
return it. 

There is one expression in your letter to which I take leave to 
except. I did not, as to yourself, express a wish that you should 
retire. The Secretaries of State and of War having tendered their 
resignations, I remarked to you that I felt it to be indispensable to 
reorganize my Cabinet proper ; that it had come in harmoniously, and 
as a unit ; and, as a part was about to leave me, which on tomorrow 
would be announced, a reorganization was necessary to guard against 
misrepresentation. These were my remarks, made to you in candor 
and sincerity. Your letter gives a different import to my words. 

Your letter contains no remarks as to your performing the duties 
of the office until a successor can be selected. On this subject I 
should be glad to know your views. 

I am very respectfully yours, 

ANDREW JACKSON. 
The Hon. John Branch, 

Secretary of the Navy. 

Immediately upon receipt of the letter just set forth, Sec- 
retary Branch sent the President the following reply: 

Washington, April 19th, 1831. 
Sir: 

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of yours of this date, 
in answer to mine of the same. 

In reply to your remark that there is one expression in my letter 
to which you must except, I would respectfully answer that I gave 



24 JOHN BRANCH 

what I understood to be the substance of your conversation. I did 
not pretend to quote your language. I regret that I misunderstood 
you in the slightest degree. I, however, stand corrected, and cheer- 
fully accept the interpretation which you have given to your own 
expression. 

I shall freely continue my best exertions to discharge the duties of 
the Department until you provide a successor. 

I have the honor to be, vsdth the greatest respect, 

Your obedient servant, 

JOHN BRANCH. 
To the President of the United States. 

The concluding letter of the official correspondence between 
President Jackson and Secretary Branch fully sets forth the 
former's reason for reorganizing the Cahinet, and bears 
testimony to the high opinion entertained by him of the man- 
ner in which the affairs of the Navy Department had been 
conducted by the retiring Secretary. It was as follows : 

Washington, April 20th, 1831. 
Sir: 

Late last evening I had the honor to receive your letter of that 
date, tendering your resignation of the office of Secretary of the 
Navy. 

When the resignations of the Secretary of State and Secretary of 
War were tendered, I considered fully the reasons offered, and all 
the circumstances connected with the subject. After mature delibera- 
tion, I concluded to accept those resignations. But when this con- 
clusion was come to, it was accompanied vnth a conviction that I 
must entirely renew my Cabinet. Its members had been invited by 
me to the stations they occupied ; it had come together in great har- 
mony, and as a unit. Under the circumstances in which I found my- 
self, I could not but perceive the propriety of selecting a Cabinet com- 
posed of entirely new materials, as being calculated, in this respect 
at least, to command public confidence and satisfy public opinion. 
Neither could I be insensible to the fact that to permit two only to 
retire would be to afford room for unjust misconception and malig- 
nant representations concerning the influence of their particular pres- 
ence upon the conduct of public affairs. Justice to the individuals 
whose public spirit had impelled them to tender their resignations 
also required then, in my opinion, the decision which I have stated. 
However painful to my own feelings, it became necessary that I 
should frankly make known to you my view of the whole subject. 

In accepting your resignation, it is with great pleasure that I bear 
testimony to the integrity and zeal with which you have managed the 



JOHN BKANCH 25 

concerns of the Navy. In your discharge of all the duties of your 
office over which I have any control, I have been fully satislied ; and 
in your retirement you carry with you my best wishes for your pros- 
perity and happiness. 

It is expected that you will continue to discharge the duties of your 
office until a successor is appointed. 

I have the honor to be, with great respect, 

Your most obedient servant, 
John Branch, ANDREW JACKSON. 

Secretary of the Navy. 

It has been said that the social controversy over Mrs. Eaton, 
which terminated in the dissolution of President Jackson's 
Cabinet, had an important bearing on United States history 
for many years thereafter, as it gained for Van Buren the 
Presidency, through the influence of Jackson, and widened 
between Jackson and Calhoun the breach which later resulted 
in the Nullification proceedings. 

After winding up his affairs in Washington, Mr. Branch 
returned to his home in Enfield, North Carolina. Not long 
after this, he wrote a full account of his experiences in and 
retirement from the Cabinet to his friend, Edmund B. Eree- 
man, then residing in the town of Halifax and later Clerk of 
the Supreme Court of North Carolina. This letter was 
first published in the Roanoke Advocate, of which Mr. Free- 
man was editor, afterwards being copied in the Raleigh 
Register, of September 1, 1831, in Niles Register, of Septem- 
ber 3, 1831, and other publications of that day. It is here 

given in full : 

Enfield, August 22, 1831. 
Dear Sir: 

Of the causes which led to the dissolution of the late Cabinet, I 
have never entertained a doubt. I will briefly state the reasons I 
have for my opinion, and leave you to judge of them as well or as 
ill founded. Before the President had nominated Major Eaton for the 
War Department, and while the subject might be supposed to be 
under consideration, I took the liberty of stating to General Jackson 
candidly my reasons for believing the selection would be unpopular 
and unfortunate. I reminded the President that he knew I was the 
friend of Major Eaton, and personally preferred him to either of the 
others proposed for his Cabinet; and, of course, nothing I should 
say on the subject ought to be construed into an intention to injure 



26 JOHN BRANCH 

him (Major Eaton), but, on the contrary, to save him from infinite 
vexation and annoyance, which, it was too plain, were in store for 
him if he took a seat in the Cabinet under the circimastances in which 
he was placed. The President admitted that charges had been made 
against the character of Mrs. Eaton, but insisted on it they were 
slanders, and that he ought not to notice them. I did not perceive 
at the time that he was hurt by the frankness or nature of my com- 
munication, though I afterwards learned that he had become offended 
with, and had discarded from his acquaintance, several of his old and 
best friends wiio had used the like freedom of speech on this subject. 
My remonstrances, it is known, were without effect, and Major Eaton 
was soon after formally appointed Secretary of War. Before this 
was done, however, I made an appeal to Major Eaton himself, and 
without reserve disclosed my apprehensions to him, adding that I 
did not pretend to intimate that there was the least truth in these 
reports ; but, if utterly false, they would still have an effect on the 
President's peace and quiet, as he must know what use the opposition 
would make of it ; that I believed it was impossible he could be willing 
to subject General Jackson to such a state of things ; that he could 
not have forgotten how much General Jackson had been distressed 
by the calumnies and ill reports which had been formerly circulated 
about Mrs. Jackson ; that, since the death of that lady, those reports 
had subsided, and would soon be heard of no more; that General 
Jackson knew the same kind of reports and imputations had pre- 
vailed with respect to Mrs. Eaton; that if he (Major Eaton) entered 
into the Cabinet, the enemies of the President would not fail to make 
a handle of it, and thus revive, in the General's bosom, recollections 
which could not be but painful and distressing; and which could not 
fail to disturb the tranquility and usefulness of his administration. 
My remarks were received apparently with the same kindness and 
courtesy which characterized my manner, but they no doubt laid the 
foundation of that hostility which afterwards became active and un- 
extinguishable. From the moment of Major Eaton's appointment, 
General Jackson began to use his utmost efforts to bring Mrs. Eaton 
into public favor and distinction. He frequently spoke of the neglect 
Mrs. Eaton received when she attempted to appear at public places. 
He did not fail to intimate that it would be a most acceptable service 
rendered him if the members of his Cabinet would aid in promoting 
this object. I felt greatly embarrassed by such appeals to myself. 
It was impossible for me to comply with his wishes on this point, but 
it was, nevertheless, painful for me to say so. In any other matter 
in which I could, with a proper respect for myself and the feelings 
of my family, have complied with an intimation of his desire, no 
one would have done so more cheerfully than myself. By way of di- 
verting his mind, I several times spoke of the difficulty he would 
experience in attempting to regulate the intercourse of the ladies ; 



JOHN BRANCH 27 

that tliey were, in matters of that kind, uncontrollable and omnipo- 
tent; that he would find less difficulty in fighting over again the 
Battle of New Orleans. Soon after it was ascertained that Mrs. 
Eaton could not be received into the society of the families of the 
members of the Cabinet, Major Eaton's conduct to me discovered an 
evident change in his friendly feelings, and became cold, formal, and 
repulsive. I repeatedly threw myself into his company, and endeav- 
ored to assure him that I still had the most sincere desire to be on 
friendly terms with him, and wished for opportunities to convince 
him of the sincerity of my professions. In this course there was no 
guile — no view but that which my words fairly imported. I most 
sincerely regretted the state of public feeling towards Mrs. Eaton, 
but it was not within my power to control or soften Ir. It was a sen- 
timent resting in the breast of the female community of Washington 
City and the Nation, which was not to be suppressed or obliterated. 
After this. Major Eaton's enmity to myself became every day more 
and more apparent. I could hear frequently of declarations to this 
effect, and of his determination to be revenged. It is true these 
reports came to me circuitously and indirectly, but I could not, from 
circumstances, doubt their truth. 

At length came the mission by Colonel Jolmson, the substance of 
which has already been given to the public by Messrs. Ingham and 
Berrien. I will only add to their statements that I distinctly under- 
stood Colonel Johnson to say that he came to us from the President 
of the United States, authorized by him to hold the interview ; and, 
unless our difficulties in reference to Mrs. Eaton could be adjusted, 
that Mr. Ingham, Judge Berrien, and myself must expect to retire. 
When he closed his remarks, I well recollect rising from my seat, and, 
with an earnestness of manner which the extraordinary character of 
the communication was so well calculated to produce, observed, 
among other things, that no man had a right to dictate to me and 
my family, in their domestic relations, and that I would submit to 
no control of the kind. The Colonel undertook to reason the matter 
with us by observing that, although it might be impracticable to 
establish intimate and social relations between our families and Mrs. 
Eaton, he could see no reason why she should not be invited to our 
large parties, to which everybody was usually invited, Tom, Dick, 
Harry, &c. With this concession, he said, the President would be 
satisfied. We protested against the interference of the President in 
any manner or form whatever, as it was a matter which did not 
belong to our official connection with him, soon after which Colonel 
Johnson expressed his deep regret at the failure of his mission, and 
we separated. 

I waited until Friday, a day having intervened, in expectation of 
hearing from the President; but, receiving no message, I walked 
over, in hopes that an opportunity would offer to put an end to my 



28 JOHN BKANCH 

unpleasant state of feeling. I found the President alone. He re- 
ceived me with his wonted courtesy, though evidently but ill at ease. 
In a few minutes the absorbing subject was introduced. Among other 
things, he spolie in strong language of the purity of Mrs. Eaton's 
character and the baseness of her slanderers, and presently men- 
tioned a rumor, which he said had been in circulation, of a combina- 
tion to exclude her from society. Several parties, he said, had been 
recently given, among others three by Mr. Ingham, Judge Berrien, 
and myself, to which she had not been invited ; and from this it was 
strongly inferred that we had combined to keep her out of society, 
I told him that, so far as I was concerned, I believed my family were 
doing no more than the members of Congress, the citizens of Washing- 
ton, and visitors to the seat of Government, had a right to expect from 
me as a member of his Cabinet. It was certainly in accordance with 
universal custom ; and that, as to a combination, I knew of none ; 
that I could never acknowledge the right of any one to interfere in 
matters affecting the private and social arrangements of my family ; 
and that, before I would be dictated to, or controlled in such matters, 
I tvould abandon his Cabinet, and teas ready to do so tvhenever he 
desired it, and added several other strong remarks of a similar char- 
acter. He assured me, in reply, that he did not desire it; that he 
was entirely satisfied with the manner in ivhich I had discharged 
my official duty, and that he did not claim the right to dictate to us 
in our social relations, but that he felt himself bound to protect the 
family of Major Eaton, as he would mine under similar circum- 
stances. I then informed him that Colonel Johnson had formally an- 
nounced to Mr. Ingham, Judge Berrien, and myself, that it was his 
intention to remove us from office for the cause mentioned, and I had 
learned from Mr. I. the evening before, who derived his informa- 
tion from the Colonel, that he had gone so far as to make temporary 
arrangements for the Departments, viz., Mr. Dickins for the Treas- 
ury, Mr. Kendall for the Navy, and some one else for Attorney Gen- 
eral. This the President denied, and said he would send for Colonel 
Johnson, and for that purpose called for a servant. When the ser- 
vant came, I observed it was unnecessary to send for the Colonel — 
his word was sufficient. "Well," said he, "if you are satisfied." I 
told him I was. We continued our conversation for some time. I 
attempted, on that occasion, as I had done several times before, to 
convince him of the impropriety of his interfering at all in a question 
of such a delicate character, but his feelings were evidently too much 
enlisted to weigh any reasons which might be offered. 

I have already informed the public that no paper was presented to 
me, or read to me, or alluded to, having reference to the future con- 
duct of the members of the Cabinet. On this head I cannot be mis- 
taken. I may add that the President constantly insisted on the neces- 
sity of harmony among the members of the Cabinet. Here I cannot 



JOHN BRANCH 29 

refrain from a remark upon this injunction of the President, that 
Major Eaton was the only dissatisfied member of the Cabinet, the 
only one who carried complaints to the President of the conduct of 
others, the only one who employed his efforts to bring us to discredit 
with the public or the President. Among the others the utmost 
civility and sociability prevailed. No one annoyed him (Major Eaton) 
or made any effort to embarrass the operations of his Department 
or in any manner acted towards him as inimical or deficient in re- 
spect; and yet we are to be punished for the discordances of the 
Cabinet. Can any decision be more arbitrary and unjust? 

A few days after this interview with the President, Colonel Johnson 
came into the Navy Department, and as he entered I rose to receive 
him. With his wonted cordiality of manner he expressed his satis- 
faction at the pacific aspect of our relations. I observed to him, with 
a smile, that the President denied having authorized him to make 
such a communication as he had made. He good-humoredly replied, 
"Let it pass ; I presented it to you in the most favorable light," and, 
as he was hurried, here the conversation ended. 

About the same time I had an interview with Major Eaton, in the 
presence of Judge Berrien and Major Barry. This was brought about 
by the President. Major Eaton, it seems, had complained to him, 
either directly or indirectly, that at a party given by my family the 
last of September or the first of October, 1829,* to the family of a 
most estimable friend and relation of mine, from Nashville, Tennes- 
see, who was on a visit to Washington City, the Rev. J. N. Campbell, 
, then of that place, now of Albany, N. Y., was among the invited 
guests. The circumstances were these: Mr. Campbell, who liad re- 
sided in the city for some years previous to General Jackson's inaugu- 
ration, was the pastor of a church, and such was his reputation that 
the President and three members of his Cabinet, viz., Mr. Ingham, 
Judge Berrien, and myself, took pews and became regular attend- 
ants at his church. In the course of his ministry he formed an 
acquaintance with my family, and occasionally visited them. He hap- 
pened there while my friend Hill and his family were with us, con- 
tracted an acquaintance with them ; and, when the party alluded to 
was given, my daiighters invited him. He attended, and took the 
liberty of carrying with him his friend Dr. Ely, of Philadelphia, who 
had just arrived. I knew no more of his being invited than of any 
other person who happened to be present. He was, however, not the 
less welcome on that account, nor was his friend Dr. Ely. Neither of 
these gentlemen require a recommendation where they reside. Mr. 
Campbell is known to be a learned, pious, and most eloquent divine. 
Some short time after the party, I heard, very much to my surprise, 
that Major Eaton and some of his partisans were enraged with me, 



*Mr. Branch later corrected this statement, saying September 8, 
1829, was the exact date. M. DeL. H. 



30 JOHlSr BEANCH 

and threatened my destruction, because Mr. Campbell and Dr. Ely 
were at my house as above stated. I could scarcely credit the report, 
until it was mentioned to me by the President, when I emphatically 
asked him who questioned my right to invite whom I pleased to my 
house? He testily observed, No person; but, as there was some mis- 
understanding between Major Eaton, Mrs. E., and Mr. Campbell, that 
he (Major E.) thought it evinced hostility to him. At the interview 
above alluded to, between Major Eaton, Judge Berrien, Major Barry, 
and myself. Major Eaton mentioned the circumstances of Mr. Camp- 
bell and Dr. Ely being at my house on the occasion referred to. I 
asked Major Eaton, in the most frank and friendly manner, if this 
was his only complaint, and if he would be satisfied, provided I 
convinced him he was in error, assuring him at the same time that 
he had no right to consider me as being under the influence of un- 
friendly feelings towards him ; that, on the contrary, he ought to know 
my personal attachment for him, before the Cabinet was formed ; 
and further, if he would obtain the consent of his brother-in-law, 
Major Lewis, to read a confidential correspondence which passed be- 
tween Major L. and myself, in the Winter of 1827-'28, on this disturb- 
ing subject, he would then be convinced of the disinterestedness and 
correctness of my course, and of its entire conformity to that friend- 
ship and good will which had so long subsisted between us. I might 
have gone further and said that Major Lewis, in the Winter of 
1827-'28, when there could be no unwK)rthy motive to mislead either 
of us, considered Mrs. Eaton an unsafe associate for his daughter, 
although he was now endeavoring to induce General Jackson to drive 
me out of the Cabinet because I would not compel my daughters to 
associate with her. Major Eaton would not say whether he would 
be satisfied or not, and the explanation was withheld. But as we 
were about to separate, he ofi'ered me his hand in a more cordial 
manner than he had done for some months previous. I have no 
doubt that Major Eaton, in tendering his resignation, stipulated for 
the dismissal of the three offensive members of the Cabinet. Mr. 
Van Buren, also, I have reasons to believe, urged the adoption of this 
measure. This gentleman had discovered that the three members of 
the Cabinet (afterwards ejected) disdained to become tools to sub- 
serve his ambitious aspirings, and he determined to leave them as lit- 
tle power to defeat his machinations as possible. It is said to be a 
part of his character to tolerate politically no one who will not enter 
heart and soul into measures for promoting his own aggrandisement. 
He had become latterly the almost sole confidant and adviser of the 
President. How he obtained this influence might be a subject of 
curious and entertaining inquiry. But I shall not pursue it. I may 
add, however, that amongst the means employed, were tne most de- 
voted and assiduous attentions to Mrs. Eaton, and unceasing efforts 
to bring her into notice, especially with the families of the foreign 
Ministers. 



JOHN" BRANCH 31 

Finally, when the President found that his efforts to introduce Mrs. 
Eaton into society proved abortive, he became every day less com- 
municative, and more and more formal in his hospitalities until there 
could be no doubt that, as to myself, an unfriendly influence had 
obtained an ascendancy in his private councils, and the result shows 
that he had determined to sacrifice me to gratify the feelings of those 
whom I had ofl:ended as stated above. 

I may at some future time add to these views. At present I take 
my leave, with assurances of great respect and esteem. 

Yours, &c., 
To Edmund B. Freeman, Esq., JOHN BRANCH. 

Halifax Town. 

P. S. — I have not considered it necessary to notice a charge made 
in The Qlohe, against Judge Berrien, of suppressing a material part 
of a letter which I wrote to him, and my substituting another in its 
stead. If any person has been misled by this bold accusation of the 
editor of The Globe, and is desirous of obtaining correct information, 
he has my permission to read the whole letter, although it was not 
intended to be made public. 

For some years the bitter feelings, caused by the disruption 
of the Cabinet, survived, and came near causing a duel be- 
tween Ex-Secretary Branch and Senator Forsyth, of Georgia^ 
in the year following, while Mr. Branch was serving as a 
member of Congress, to which office he had been elected after 
his resignation from the Cabinet. The newspapers published 
what purported to be a speech made by Senator Forsyth, in an 
executive session of the Senate, on the nomination of Martin 
Van Buren as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipoten- 
tiary to the Court of St. James, in which Forsyth was quoted 
as referring to "a late Secretary" as a "volunteer repeater of 
confidential conversations with the Chief Magistrate." Upon 
having this called to his attention, Mr. Branch addressed the 
following communication to Senator Forsyth : 

Washington City, February 5th, 1832. 
Sir: 

I have read the printed report of your speech, prepared by you for 
the press, purporting to be the remarks which you made in the Senate, 
in secret session, on the nomination of Martin Van Buren as Envoy 
Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James. 



32 



JOHN BKANCH 



The notice which you take of a conversation referred to in the debate 
by Mr. Poindexter, Senator from Mississippi, requires that I should 
ask of you to state to me, explicitly, whether you did or did not know, 
or had reason to believe at the time you wrote out your speech for 
publication, that I was the "somebody, one of the late Secretaries" to 
whom you refer as the volunteer repeater of confidential conversa- 
tions with the Chief Magistrate? 

Your reply to this communication will regulate my future action on 
this subject. 

I am respectfully yours, &c., 

JOHN BRANCH. 
Hon. John Forsyth. 

This note was conveyed to Senator Forsyth by the Honor- 
able Samuel P. Carson, a Eepresentative in Congress from 
l^orth Carolina, who also had a verbal discussion of the sub- 
ject with the Georgia Senator, who did not consider it con- 
sistent with self-respect to make any explanation while the 
implied threat, with which Mr. Branch's note concluded, was 
allowed to stand. By the hands of Congressman William S. 
Archer, of Virginia, he sent to Colonel Carson the following 
communication : 

Washington, February 5th, 1832. 
Dear Sir: 

Although perfectly satisfied with your verbal declaration, on reflec- 
tion, since we separated this morning, I think it indispensable that 
the concluding paragraph in the enclosed letter should be omitted, or 
that your remarks to me on the subject of it should be in writing 
before an answer to it is transmitted to you. 

I return it to you to adopt either course that may be most agreeable 
to you. 

I am, dear sir, very sincerely, 

JOHN FORSYTH. 
Hon. Mr. Carson. 

After consultation with Colonel Carson, Mr. Branch con- 
sented to withdraw the objectionable paragraph, it being con- 
sidered immaterial, and Carson replied to Forsyth as follows : 

House of Representatives, February 6th, 1832. 
Dear Sir: 

If the simple interrogatory contained in the letter of Governor 
Branch, would be more acceptable to you, without the paragraph 



JOHN BRANCH 33 

with which it concludes, I am authorized, as his friend, to state to 
you that that paragraph may be considered as stricken from his note, 
not deeming it essential to the substance of his inquiry. 

Very respectfully, 
Hon. John Forsyth. SAM'L P. CARSON. 

P. S. — Your note was not handed to me till this day, since the meet- 
ing of the House. 

Feeling now free to answer Mr. Branch's letter, Senator 
Forsyth sent this reply to the inquiry therein contained : 

Washington, February 6th, 1832. 
Sir: 

I have received your note by Colonel Carson. 

The remarks of mine, to which you point my attention, were made 
in answer to Mr. Poindexter, and intended to apply to the person 
referred to by him, without knowledge of that person, on my part, 
then, or at the time my remarks were prepared for the press. 

I am very respectfully yours, &c., 

JOHN FORSYTH. 
Hon. Mr. Branch. 

On the day after Senator Forsyth's reply was written, 

another note from Mr. Branch was conveyed to him in these 

words : 

Washington, February 7th, 1832. 
Sir: 

In your answer to my note by Colonel Carson, you state that you 
did not know that I was the person referred to by Governor Poin- 
dexter as having held a conversation with the President. It being 
now made known to you that I was the person, I wish to inquire 
whether you feel yourself at liberty to disavow the application of 
those remarks to me? 

I am respectfully, &c., JOHN BRANCH, 

Hon. John Forsyth. 

The matter was concluded to the satisfaction of all parties 

when, on the same day. Senator Forsyth sent the following 

disclaimer : 

Washington, February 7th, 1832. 
Sir: 

Your note of this morning informs me that you were the person 
referred to by Mr. Poindexter in the observations alluded to in your 

3 



34 JOHN BRVNCH 

former notes, and inquires whether I feel at liberty to disclaim the 
application to you of my remarks in reply. 

Having submitted the subject to some of my friends, who unite in 
thinking that the inference from the observations of Mr. Poindexter, 
under which my remarks were made, that the conversation referred 
to had been confidential, was not warranted, and satisfied that the 
view of the subject is correct, I have no hesitation in disclaiming the 
application to you of the charge, imported by these remarks, of hav- 
ing repeated a confidential conversation. 

I am respectfully, &c., 

JOHN FORSYTH. 
Hon. John Branch, 

House of Representatives. 

The above correspondence, made public by Messrs. Carson 
and Archer, first appeared in The United States Telegraph. 
Later it was copied in Niles Weekly Reffister, of February 
11, 1832. 

It was doubtless a source of satisfaction to the friends of 
both parties that the controversy between Mr. Branch and 
Senator Forsyth was adjusted in a manner honorable to both 
gentlemen, and probably to none so much as to Colonel Carson, 
who, less than fours years before, in consequence of some as- 
persions cast on the honor of his aged father, had challenged 
and killed Ex-Congressman Robert Brank Vance — a circum- 
stance which marred his happiness throughout the remainder 
of his life. 

While speaking of the practice of duelling, it may be men- 
tioned that Mr. Branch, during his term as Senator, was one 
of the party of gentlemen who witnessed the famous duel be- 
tween Henry Clay and John Randolph in 1826. 

TJpon the retirement of Secretary Branch from the Cabinet 
of President Jackson, he returned to ISTorth Carolina, and was 
received with every mark of consideration and honor by the 
people of his native State. Under date of August 18, 1831, 
the citizens of Bertie County, through a committee of their 
number, sent him an invitation to become the guest of honor 
at a banquet which they wished to give at the town of Windsor 
as a testimonial to his worth, or (to quote the language of the 



JOHN" BRANCH 35 

invitation) for the "purpose of expressing their high regard 
for his private virtues, as well as the high opinion which they 
entertained of his firm and undeviating course, prominently 
displayed in many important services rendered his State, 
and more especialy by his late demonstration of attachment 
to those principles which had always governed him." On 
August 20th, Mr. Branch replied that, under the most 
auspicious circumstances of his life, such marked kindness 
could not fail to be highly acceptable; but the fact of his 
having been recently expelled from the Cabinet of the Presi- 
dent by the ascendency of certain "malign influences" and 
of still being pursued in his retirement with a fiendlike 
vengeance, bent on the destruction of his good name, notliing 
could be more grateful to his feelings than the generous con- 
fidence and support of those who had known him from his 
earliest entrance into public life. Sickness in his family, he 
said, now required his undivided attention and would soon 
render necessary a trip to another climate. Hence he would 
have to forego the high gratification he should otherwise 
experience in making his acknowledgTaents to friends gathered 
around the festive board. A few months after this, Mr. 
Branch went on a visit to Tennessee. On October 4th, he de- 
layed his trip in Ealeigh long enough to call attention, through 
the Raleigh Register of October 6th, to the fact that in a 
lengthy statement recently issued by Ex-Secretary Eaton, 
the latter, in publishing a letter written by Mr. Branch to 
Jackson, had altered the date and thereby made it appear 
that Branch was so lacking in self-respect as to continue ex- 
pressing feelings of ardent friendship for the President two 
days after that ofiicial had shown him marked discourtesy 
in an interview on the all-disturbing topic of Mrs. Eaton. 
As a matter of fact, the letter was written two days before 
the interview took place, and at a time when Mr. Branch 
had every reason to count the President among his best 
friends. 



o 



6 JOHN BRANCH 



While on his way to Tennessee, Mr. Branch passed through 
Asheville (where the Superior Court was in session), and 
his admirers in that vicinity tendered him a public enter- 
taimnent, but circumstances rendered it impossible for him 
to accept the proffered courtesy. 

In August, 1831, a signal honor was paid Mr. Branch when 
the Honorable Jesse A. Bynum and other candidates for Con- 
gress in the Halifax District voluntarily withdrew from the 
race and caused his unanimous election to the I^^ational House 
of Representatives. Mr. Branch entered upon his new duties 
at the first session of the Twenty-second Congress, which 
assembled on the 5th of the following December. Having long 
been a conspicuous figure in National politics, he at once took 
high rank in his new station. During the course of his service 
he was a debater on many bills and resolutions which came 
before that body, including banking laws, Indian affairs, 
the tariff, naval affairs, &c., all of which were important in 
their day but which would not be of interest if set forth at 
length in this sketch. 

When men first began to make use of steam power, numer- 
ous conjectures were made as to what purpose it would serve ; 
and, in 1832, a bill was introduced in CongTess to authorize 
the l^avy Department to expend $111,704 in the fitting out 
of a steam frigate and the construction of two "steam bat- 
teries." On June 21st, in the year just mentioned. Congress- 
man Branch called up this bill and advocated its passage. 
He said that Secretary of the ISTavy Woodbury wished the 
experiment made, to ascertain whether steam power might not 
successfully be introduced as a means of naval defense. With 
keen foresight he further declared: "It is admitted on all 
hands that, sooner or later, this newly discovered power will 
be introduced, if not in offensive, certainly in defensive war- 
fare, and I think the contemplated experiment worth mak- 
ing". These so-called "steam batteries" were small vessels, 
not much more than barges, propelled by steam and carrying 
small batteries, to be used chiefly for coast defense. Seven 



JOHN BRANCH 37 

years later, in 1838, Secretary of the l^avy Dickerson also 
recommended the construction and equipment of this type 
of defensive craft. 

At the expiration of his term in the l^ational House of 
Representatives, Mr, Branch declined to become a candidate 
for re-election. This left the field open to the Honorable 
Jesse A, Bynum and Colonel Andrew Joyner; and, in the 
contest which followed, Mr. Bynum was victorious. 

In the year following his retirement from Congress, Mr. 
Branch made his last appearance as a member of the Legis- 
lature of North Carolina, taking his seat in the State Senate 
which convened in the month of November, 1834, and con- 
tinued its sittings into the early part of 1835. The General 
Assembly of the year just mentioned had many distinguished 
members, who were chiefly interested in the question of call- 
ing a State Constitutional Convention in 1835, which was 
accordingly done. In this Legislature was also a bitter fight 
over the proposition to instruct United States Senator Willie 
P. Mangum to vote for expunging the resolution of censure 
against President Jackson for removing from ofiice the Sec- 
retary of the Treasury, William J. Duane, and withdrawing 
Government deposits from the banks. There was much dis- 
cussion among the North Carolina legislators as to the pro- 
posed instructions to expunge, and Mr. Branch (an ardent 
advocate of States' Rights, now allied with the Calhoun 
faction) made a notable speech opposing the proposed in- 
structions to Senator Mangum. In this speech he gave a 
full narrative of his past connection with Jackson, and his 
remarks attracted wide attention. The Raleigh Star and 
North Carolina Gazette, of December 25, 1834, said Mr. 
Branch's speech was the "topic of conversation in every 
circle", and the same paper of February 12, 1835, gave the 
speech in full, remarking editorially: "It is an able pro- 
duction, and, as it comes from one whose sound republicanism, 
unimpeachable veracity, and sterling integrity, his bitterest 
political enemies would not dare to question, the extraordinary 



38 JOHN BRANCH 

facts which he narrates cannot fail to produce a powerful 
effect upon the public mind." Notwithstanding the opposi- 
tion of the faction led bv Branch, the Jacksonians were vie- 
torious, triumphantly carrying the resolution of instruction, 
which Senator MangTim refused to obey after it was passed. 

On the 4th day of June, 1835, the Constitutional Conven- 
tion of North Carolina assembled in Raleigh. In this body 
were many of the State's ablest and most distinguished 
citizens. John Branch was the delegate from Halifax 
County. On the opening day of the session he placed 
in nomination for President of that body the venerable 
Nathaniel Macon, his old senatorial colleague, who was unan- 
imously elected. Mr. Branch took a prominent part in the 
deliberations and debates of the Convention. Annual sessions 
of the General Assembly he strongly favored. Of his position 
on this point the Convention Journal says: "He believed 
that annual sessions of the Legislature were well calculated 
to keep in check Federal usurpations. The powers of the 
General Government are constantly increasing and American 
liberty depends on the preservation of State Rights and State 
Powers." The speaker declared that he was no disorganizer, 
but favored keeping a constant watch on the Federal power. 
He advocated the abolition of borough representation in the 
Legislature though in his own county was one of the 
"borough towns." On the subject of the Thirty-second Section 
of the Constitution, aimed at Roman Catholics and providing 
a religious test for office-holders, he said he had risen 
from an attack of illness to vote for its repeal. He realized, 
as all men did, that this section had always been inoperative 
(Burke, Gaston, and possibly other Roman Catholics having 
held office without molestation on account of their religious 
views), but he declared that the section ought to be expunged 
from the Constitution as unworthy to remain in it. When, 
however, a Christian test was proposed to be substituted in 
its place, Mr. Branch declared that he could not conscien- 
tiously vote for the substitute. "Striking out the word 



JOHN BRANCH 39 

Protestant and inserting the word Christian would not cure 
the evil," said he, and asked: ''Why are the Jews to be 
excluded from office ? They were the favored people of the 
Almighty. Our Savior and His disciples were Jews; and 
are there not men among the Jews as talented, as virtuous, as 
well qualified to fill any office in our Government, as any 
other citizen in our Community ? A Jew may be appointed 
to any office under the General Government. He may be 
raised to the Presidency of the United States. And why shall 
we refuse to admit him to any office under our Government ?" 
The speaker added : "I am opposed to all religious tests for 
office, and shall therefore vote against this amendment." In 
this Convention, Mr. Branch opposed the proposition to de- 
prive free negroes of the right to vote, provided they possessed 
property, saying ''he was willing to keep the door open to 
the most intelligent free men of color, but was unwilling 
to part with the freehold qualification." His membership 
in this Constitutional Convention was the last public office 
ever held by Mr. Branch in ISTorth Carolina, though he was 
once more a candidate before the people of the State. 

The amended State Constitution, which was duly ratified 
by the people in a general election, provided that the office 
of Governor should be filled by popular vote, and not by the 
Legislature as theretofore; and Edward B. Dudley, of Wil- 
mington, was elected by the Whigs over the Democratic 
nominee, Ex-Governor Kichard Dobbs Spaight, (the younger) 
in 1836. In 1838, Governor Dudley, who had ably ad- 
ministered the afitairs of his office, was a candidate for re- 
election, and Mr. Branch (still legally a citizen of the State 
though absent much of the time in Florida) was nominated 
by the Democrats to oppose him ; but the Whigs were again 
victorious. After this defeat, Mr. Branch was never again 
a candidate for public office in North Carolina, though a 
post of high honor in Florida was soon to be conferred on 
him — a post which had been tendered him before, in 1831, 
but which was declined at that time. 



40 JOHN BRANCH 

In 1836, when Martin Van Buren was the nominee of the 
Democratic party for President, being given this honor 
chiefly through Jackson's influence, John Branch voted 
against that candidate ; but, by 1840, when Van Buren was 
again the choice of his party for President, Mr. Branch's 
resentment against his old associate in the Cabinet had so far 
cooled down that he returned to the Democratic ranks and 
gave him his unqualified support. 

The present sketch has heretofore dealt with the public 
career of Governor Branch in ISTorth Carolina and at the 
I^ational Capital, and it may be well now to say something 
of his personal history and domestic life before we treat 
of his later services as Governor of Florida. In telling of 
these private aspects of his life, the writer hereof wishes to 
make acknowledgments, for valuable assistance, to the Gov- 
ernor's granddaughter, Mrs. IsFicholas Ware Eppes (nee Brad- 
ford), of Tallahassee, Florida, a lady of rare intelligence, 
who in childhood and youth was thrown into close association 
with her grandfather, and probably has a better first-hand 
knowledge of his life and character than any other person 
now living. 

Though born in the town of Halifax, Governor Branch's 
early childhood was spent at Elk Marsh, his father's country- 
seat near Enfield, in Halifax County. He is said to have 
been a slender, delicate little lad, very studious, and given 
to thinking deeply on any subject that interested him. After 
a preparatory education in a neighboring '"'old field school," 
he entered the University of IvTorth Carolina, at Chapel Hill, 
a few years after the establishment of that reno^vned insti- 
tution, and graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts 
in 1801. His loyalty to his Alma Mater was lifelong. He 
was ex officio Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Uni- 
versity when Governor, from 1817 to 1820, and remained a 
member of that Board until absence from North Carolina 
in 1844 made him ineligible for further service. Time and 
again he attended the commencement exercises, and was 



JOHN BRANCH 



41 



probably the oldest living graduate for some years prior to 
his death, which occurred sixty-two years after the com- 
pletion of his university course. 

After his graduation from the University of North Caro- 
lina, young Branch returned home, and soon went to the 
neighboring county of Franklin, where he became a student 
of law under Judge John Haywood, a native of Halifax 
County, who then held a seat on the Superior Court Bench 
of North Carolina and was afterwards a Judge of the 
Supreme Court of Tennessee. Law, however, seems not to 
have been to the liking of Mr. Branch, and he soon entered 
the more active field of politics, also taking a deep interest in 
the management of his extensive landed estates. His first 
wife (the mother of all his children), to whom he was married 
on April 6, 1803, was Elizabeth Foort, daughter of John 
Foort, Jr., a gentleman of Scottish descent, residing in Hali- 
fax, whose wife, Margaret Randolph, was a daughter of Dr. 
Richard Randolph, of Virginia. At the time of his marriage 
Mr. Branch was only twenty years old, and his wife sixteen, 
she having been born on January 1, 178Y. The youthful 
pair took up their abode on the "Cellar Field" plantation near 
Enfield. In worldly possessions they were not lacking, Mr. 
Branch having inherited a good estate from his mother and 
later from his brother James, and Mrs. Branch being a 
woman of wealth in her own right — her father having died 
before her marriage. Mrs. Eppes, whom we have already 
mentioned, says of her grandparents: "The young couple 
were almost children, yet they were happy children and 
devoted lovers throughout more than forty years of their 
married life. Never was there a more hospitable home, and 
besides the nine sons and daughters who came to them, two 
orphan nieces of Mrs. Branch's and five of Joseph Branch's 
children, as well as several cousins, found a home and a 
father's and mother's loving care beneath their roof." One 
of the orphan children of Joseph Branch, here alluded to, was 
Lawrence O'Bryan Branch, in after life distinguished as 



42 JOHN BRANCH 

railroad president, Congressman, and Confederate General, 
who was slain in 1862 at the battle known to the Federals 
as Antietam and to the Confederates as Sharpsburg. Besides 
three daughters. General Branch left an only son, William 
Augustus Blount Branch, who saw service in the Confederate 
Army before reaching manhood, as a courier on the staff of 
Major-General Robert F. Hoke, and afterwards was a member 
of the fifty-second and fifty-third Congresses, 1891-'95. 

Mrs. Elizabeth Branch was indeed a woman qualified by 
nature, training, disposition, and intellectual endowments, to 
share the fortunes of her distinguished husband in the various 
high stations to which he was called. In the capitals of both 
North Carolina and Florida, her gracious hospitality, when 
wife of the Chief Executive, won for her the esteem and ad- 
miration of the refined circles in which she moved, and, while 
sojourning among the notables of Washington, she was fully 
equal to the task of upholding the social responsibilities rest- 
ing upon the lady of a cabinet ofiicial or national legislator. 
Indeed, if the traditions of old Washington be true, the 
Branch home surpassed all others in the fashionable yet 
wholesome character of its entertainments. So elaborate and 
largely attended, too, were these social affairs, that a lady of 
that day, in a letter, spoke of one of them as "Governor 
Branch's crush-party." 

As already stated, Mrs. Elizabeth Branch, the first wife of 
Governor Branch, was the mother of all of his children. They 
were nine in number, as follows : 

I. Martha Lewis Henry Branch, born September 29, 1806, 
who married Dr. Edward Bradford, on November 10, 1825, 
and left descendants. 

II. Rebecca Bradford Branch, iborn August 25, 1808, who 
married Robert White Williams* on April 19, 1831, and left 
descendants. 



♦After the death of his first wife, Rebecca Bradford Branch, Mr. 
Williams married her first cousin, Susan Simpson Branch, sister of 
General L. O'B. Branch. 



JOHN BRANCH 



43 



III. Margaret Branch, born August 4, 1810, who was mar- 
ried on October 18, 1830, to Daniel S. Donelson (a nephew of 
Mrs. Andrew Jackson), who distinguished himself in the War 
with Mexico and the War between the States, holding the 
rank of Major-General in the Confederate Army when he 
died in 1863, leaving descendants. 

IV. James Branch, born November 17, 1812, who married 
Ann Eliza Belton on February 20, 1839, and left an only 
child, who died in infancy. 

V. Sarah Harris Branch, born on February 14, 1814, who 
married Dr. James Hunter on July 15, 1833, and left de- 
scendants. 

VI. Mary Eliza Branch, born on July 21, 1815, who was 
first married to General Leigh Kead on May 17, 1838, and 
after his death to General William Bailey, leaving by her 
first marriage an only daughter, who died young, and by her 
second marriage, an only son. 

VII. John Richard Branch, born September 28, 1819, 
who married Josephine Woods in November, 1841, and left 
descendants. 

VIII. William Henry Branch, born October 9, 1823, who 
married Mary Eliza Horton on October 11, 1848, and left 
descendants. 

IX. Susan Branch, born January 8, 1826, who married 
Arvah Hopkins on December 13, 1849, and left descendants. 

Through the nine children just enumerated. Governor 
Branch has a large number of descendants now living. Their 
homes for the most part are in Florida, though some are 
residents of Halifax County, North Carolina, as well as of 
other localities. To Governor Branch's second marriage, 
which occurred after he had passed his three-score years and 
ten, reference is made elsewhere in this sketch. 

Governor Branch, whose business (both public and pri- 
vate) demanded his presence for prolonged periods of time 
in various localities, necessarily had many different domi- 



44 JOHN BRANCH 

ciles during the course of his life. In infancy or early child- 
hood he was removed from his native town of Halifax to Elk 
Marsh, his father's plantation in the same county. After 
reaching manhood, he took up his abode on the Cellar Field 
tract near the town of Enfield. The first house occupied by 
him on that tract was later burned, and he afterwards built 
on or near its site a handsomer and more commodious struc- 
ture, to which w^e shall refer more at length later on in this 
sketch. While serving as Governor of North Carolina, his 
official residence in Raleigh was the building known by the 
imposing title of the "Governor's Palace," then recently com- 
pleted, and of which his immediate predecessor in office. Gov- 
ernor William Miller, was the first occupant. This "palace" 
was a large brick building with a front portico supported by 
massive white pillars and stood across the southern end of 
Fayetteville Street, about a mile from the Capitol. It was 
used as a home for the Governors of ISTorth Carolina until 
the close of the AVar between the States, then being aban- 
doned, and about ten years later transformed into the Cen- 
tennial Graded School. It was afterwards demolished to 
make room for a more modern school building. While occu- 
pying this official residence in Raleigh, Governor Branch also 
had a summer home near Wake Forest, in the same county. 
His residence, of course, was in Washington during his ser- 
vice as United States Senator, Secretary of the Navy, and 
member of Congress. Of his home in Florida, and the cir- 
cumstances which led to the removal of himself and family 
to that State about the time of his retirement from public 
life in North Carolina (in which latter State he alwavs 
retained his citizenship), we have the following account in the 
narrative of Mrs. Eppes, heretofore quoted : 

"In the meantime, Dr. Edward Bradford, who married Governor 
Branch's eldest daughter, Martha Lewis Henry, had moved to Florida. 
The glowing accounts he gave of the new country fired all the family 
with enthusiasm, so one after another they wended their way south- 
ward; and the year 1836 found Governor and Mrs. Branch, with 
three sons and two daughters, settled at Live Oak, three miles from 
Tallahassee — Dr. Bradford practicing medicine in the little town, 



JOHN BRANCH 45 

Daniel S. Done! son surveying the new Territory, Robert W, Williams 
serving as Surveyor-General, and Dr. James Hunter and his wife 
(Sarah Branch) newly arrived from the Old North State. 

"Governor Branch was deeply interested in his new estate. He 
had purchased several thousands of acres in Leon County, where the 
primeval forests, as yet untouched by the hand of man, covered lofty 
heights and lovely valleys, and he selected as a site for his dwelling 
a magnificent grove of live oaks crowning a high hill overlooking the 
blue waters of Lake Jackson. Here he built a large and handsome 
residence in colonial style, and had a landscape gardener from France 
to lay out the grounds. A steep declivity led from the garden to a 
grove of magnolias, and in their midst was a beautiful spring which 
from its boiling depths sent forth an immense volume of sparkling 
water. Here Governor Branch installed a ram, which carried this 
delightful water to his dwelling, supplying bath-rooms and giving 
irrigation to the beautiful gardens surrounding the house, where rare 
flowers, collected from all parts of the earth, were to be found." 

Before his family removed to Florida in 1836, Governor 
Brancli had visited that Territory more than once, and had 
purchased land there. The first tract which he acquired (De- 
cember 27, 1833) was from the Marquis de Lafayette, it 
being part of a township in Leon County, which township 
had been granted by the United States Government to the 
illustrious Frenchman on the occasion of his visit to America 
in 1824-'25. In 1834, Governor Branch was again in 
Florida, and, as already stated, settled there in 1836, but 
legally he remained a citizen of North Carolina to the day 
of his death, going to Enfield to vote, and retaining the pos- 
session of his home there. 

Amid the delightful surroundings of his beautiful Florida 
home, Governor Branch spent many of the happiest years of 
his life — sorrows, too, coming at intervals through the sev- 
eral deaths which occurred in his family while he resided 
there. His health being somewhat impaired in 1843-'44, he 
was persuaded to try a change of scene, and spent much time 
in travel. During the course of his journeyings, he met his 
old friend President Tyler, and the two found it pleasant 
renewing their former acquaintance. Though Mr. Tyler had 
been elected Vice-President as a Whig on the ticket with 
President Harrison (upon whose death he succeeded to the 



46 JOHN BRANCH 

Presidency) , he was not now in sympathy with the policies of 
his party, a fact which drew to him many Democratic leaders 
and estranged many of his old Whig associates — Secretary of 
the JSTavy George E. Badger, a North Carolinian, being among 
the several members of his Cabinet who resigned. Before 
President Tyler and Mr. Branch parted, the latter was ten- 
dered the office of Governor of the Territory of Florida, and 
accepted the appointment. As already stated, he had declined 
to assume this post in 1831, when it was offered him by 
President Jackson. 

The nomination of John Branch as Governor of the Terri- 
tory of Florida was sent by President Tyler on June 4, 1844, 
to the United States Senate, and was duly confirmed by that 
body eleven days thereafter, on June 15th. The appointment 
was to take effect on August 11, 1844, that being the date 
when the commission of Governor Richard K. Call, who then 
filled the Executive Chair, would expire. 

The office of Territorial Governor of Florida was no sine- 
cure, and this was fully realized by Mr. Branch before he 
accepted the commission tendered him by President Tyler. 
The bloody and destructive war with the Seminole Indians 
in that Territory had scarcely drawn to a close ; business was 
demoralized by an unsound financial system, made worse by 
the machinations of non-resident speculators; and yellow 
fever had gotten in its deadly work among many of the set- 
tlers. The Twenty-third Territorial Legislature, or "Legis- 
lative Council," met amid such unfavorable surroundings at 
the beginning of 1845 ; and, on the 10th of January, in that 
year. Governor Branch sent his official message to these law- 
makers, advising ways out of the difficulties by which the peo- 
ple were boset, and complaining of the unjust course pur- 
sued with reference to the Territory, by the General Govern- 
ment. In the course of this message he said : 

"It must be admitted that Florida has rights to maintain, as well 
as wrongs to redress, of such a character as to demand our undi- 
vided energies. With these convictions, I should be wanting in a 



JOHN BRANCH 47 

proper discharge of my duty were I to shrink from the high responsi- 
bility of recommending them, not only to your favorable notice, but 
to your efficient action. 

"If ever there existed a community with well-founded claims on its 
Government for indemnity, it is to be found in Florida — a country 
highly favored by Providence, but laid waste by a ferocious and im- 
placable foe — provoked and goaded on, not only without a provident 
preparation for such an occurrence, but in the prosecution of a war, 
to say the least, of doubtful policy. It is painful, as it is unnecessary, 
for me to dwell on the manner in which it V5"as conducted and pro- 
tracted. It is enough to know, as our citizens but too sensibly feel, 
that, by this ill-advised measure, Florida has become, through no 
agency of her own, an almost blood-stained wilderness, and that half 
a century will scarcely suffice to place her where she would have 
been but for the mismanagement of her Federal Trustee. Would that 
this were all — but not so ! Through the same agency, an unwise and 
ruinous legislation has been inflicted on her, worse, if possible, than 
war, pestilence, and famine. I mean the blighting influence of a cor- 
rupt and corrupting paper system, so utterly rotten that I cannot un- 
dertake its dissection. * ♦ * 

"It is true that all parties now denounce the banking system, as it 
has existed in Florida, as a Pandora's box, and cry aloud for the 
nuisance to be forthwith abated. In this I concur. But let us take 
care that we do not involve the innocent with the guilty in one indis- 
criminate wreck ; for, in critical operations in surgery, the utmost 
caution and skill are necessary. 

"In addition to all this, Florida has had indignities superadded to 
injuries. She has been charged with repudiating her just debts. 
Nothing can be more libelous ; and, in her behalf, I feel it to be my 
duty to repel the charge. On the contrary, it is her anxiety to pay 
her honest debts that induces her to scrutinize the spurious demands 
of speculators and bank-swindlers, generated and fostered by irre- 
sponsible Federal rulers. * * * 

"In making the foregoing remarks on our Federal relations, it is 
not my intention to question the motives or patriotism of any ad- 
ministration, either past or present, but to do justice to a people over 
whom I have the honor and responsibility of presiding as their Chief 
Magistrate, by a plain narrative of facts, which I believe to be incon- 
trovertible ; and to hold those responsible, and those only, who have 
been the cause of your insufferable ills. On the contrary, I should 
do violence to my own feelings were I not to acknowledge the debt of 
gratitude we owe to the patriotic officers and soldiery, both of the 
regular army and militia, who periled everything in this inglorious 
war — and that, too, under the most discouraging circumstances. And 
I may further add that I sincerely sympathize with them, that, from 



48 johjN" branch 

the character of the enemy with whom they had to contend, and the 
country in which their operations were carried on, so few laurels 
have been won, though doubtless merited." 

On a previous page we have shown that, during his three 
terms as Governor of North Carolina, Mr. Branch repeatedly 
urged upon the State Legislature the importance of foster- 
ing public education. His interest in this subject never 
abated; and, in the above mentioned message to the Legisla- 
ture of Florida, he used this language: 

Allow me to impress upon you the sacredness of your obligations, 
to the rising generation and to posterity, to extend every facility in 
your power to the acquisition of a liberal education. This can only 
be done by establishing schools in every part of your territory, to the 
extent of your ability." 

The inefficiency and inadequate equipment of the militia 

of the Territory, and the unprotected state of the sea-coast, 

were sources of misgivings to all thoughtful men in Florida, 

and Governor Branch dwelt upon these matters as follows : 

"The proper and efficient organization of the militia cannot be a 
subject of indifference when it is borne in mind that on this species 
of force we have mainly to rely for the defense of this, the most 
exposed portion of the United States. Permit me to urge its import- 
ance, and respectfully to recommend a revision of your laws so far 
at least as to ensure prompt and accurate returns to the Adjutant Gen- 
eral of the United States. For the want of such returns, our citizens 
are comparative unarmed, and so have heen for the last thirteen years, 
although engaged in a bloody war for more than half that time. 
Having done our duty, we may then confidently rely on the Federal 
Government for the fortification of our extended seaboard. This, 
I am gratified to learn, is now attracting the attention of Congress, 
and I cannot doubt that everything will be done that money and the 
indomitable spirit and energy of our fellow-citizens can achieve to 
render our exposed frontier impregnable to a foreign foe." 

The honor of statehood was not accorded the Territory of 
Florida so soon as she thought herself entitled thereto, and 
Governor Branch expressed himself with his wonted force on 
this matter in his message : 

"Under the Providence of God, Florida earnestly desires to carve 
out her own fortunes in her own way. She aslis to be permitted to 



JOHN" BRANCH 49 

appoint her own officers, and to make and administer her own laws ; 
and, in thus asking, she feels that she seeks nothing but what she is 
justly entitled to, and what she would be recreant to her best interests 
and posterity were she not to insist on. She demands the rights of 
a sovereign State, so long withheld from her, though guaranteed by 
the Constitution of the United States and the Treaty of Cession. 
With a solitary Delegate in Congress, without even a vote to oppose 
aggressions on your rights, how can you expect successfully to con- 
tend for equal participation in the benefits of this glorious confeder- 
acy? Allow me, then, to advise you to gird on the armor of State 
sovereignty — to shake off the old boy, and put on the new man ! 

"To those of our fellow-citizens who believe that we are incapable 
of sustaining the expenses of a State Government, I would respect- 
fully say that, if the estimates of our able and indefatigable Delegate 
are to be accredited — of which I cannot doubt — your fears are ground- 
less. Instead of being a loss of a few dollars and cents, it will be a 
gain of thousands and tens of thousands. But, I would remark, that 
we ought not to be deterred from the pursuit of the great prize by 
such considerations. The right of self-government is inestimable to 
freemen, and ought not to be abandoned for light and trivial causes." 

Toward the conclusion of his message, Governor Branch 
took a brighter view of the future of the Territory over which 
he presided, saying: 

"With a virgin soil, a genial climate, and a wise and paternal gov- 
ernment to develop and foster her resources, Florida may yet promise 
herself a prosperous and happy future. Although causes beyond her 
control, as previously remarked, have retarded her growth and cast 
a shade over her territorial fortunes and good name; and, although, 
at the moment of throwing off the degrading yoke of vassalage, her 
difficulties may seem to be appalling — yet, when calmly viewed, and 
impartially weighed by intelligent, patriotic, and honest statesmen, 
Florida will have nothing to dread." 

As Mr. Branch was Governor of Florida for less than a 
year — from August 11, 1844, until June 25, 1845 — the mes- 
sage from which we have made the extracts set forth above, was 
the only one which he sent to the "Legislative Council," or 
General xlssembly of the Territory, except a few brief special 
messages which would not be of general interest if quoted in 
the present sketch. 



4 



50 JOHN BRANCH 

The Territory of Florida was admitted as a State into the 
American Union hj an Act of Congress passed on the 3d of 
March, 1845. In order to make an even balance of the power 
thus added to the South in the Halls of Congress, another 
Territory (of opposite political tendencies) was raised to 
statehood by the inclusion of Iowa within the provisions of 
the same Act. There was great rejoicing when news was 
brouo'ht to Tallahassee that the Territorv of Florida had been 
created a State. This action of Congress was especially grati- 
fying to Governor Branch, who gave a large and brilliant 
reception at Live Oak in honor of the event, and invited all 
residents of that vicinity, as well as visitors from other parts 
of Florida, to attend. There is still preserved a letter from 
the Governor's youngest daughter, written to a schoolmate at 
Georgetown, near Washington City, in which is this descrip- 
tion of the entertainment: 

"Oh, I wish you could have seen Live Oak last night ! All the 
world and his wife were bidden to help us celebrate, and everything 
possible was done to add to the occasion. Bonfires blazed on the edge 
of the grove, and lanterns were hung in the shrubbery. The house 
was brilliantly lighted, and from top to bottom was thrown open to 
the public. Across the front entrance, in large letters of living green 
on a white banner, was 'State of Florida,' and inside the house all 
was jollity and congratulation, feasting and music." 

Soon after receiving official advices that Florida had been 
admitted into the Union, Mr. Branch (who had thus become 
Acting Governor of the new State) issued a proclamation, on 
April 5, 1845, fixing upon the 26th of May as the time when 
a general election should be held for the purpose of choosing 
a Governor, a Legislature, and a Representative in Congress. 
Governor Branch, being the foremost Democrat in Florida, 
was urged by his friends to enter the lists as a candidate for 
Governor of the State against the Whig candidate, Ex-Gov- 
ernor Call. To this proposition Mr. Branch declined to assent. 
Already he had "sounded all the depths and shoals of honor," 
and was not only willing, but anxious to return to the walks of 
private life. Other considerations moving him to decline fur- 



JOHN BRANCH 51 

ther participation in politics were Mrs. Branch's continued 
ill health and a set determination on his part never to relin- 
quish his citizenship as a North Carolinian. William Dunn 
Moseley, a personal and political friend of Mr. Branch, was 
thereupon nominated by the Democratic party as Governor, 
and was duly elected. In the new State government, Gover- 
nor Branch's nephew, Joseph Branch, became Attorney-Gen- 
eral. The hrst session of the Legislature of the State of 
i'lorida met on the 23d of June, 1845, and two days later, 
on June 25th, Governor-elect Moseley was inducted into 
office. This inauguration of a successor closed the career 
of Governor Branch as Governor of the Territory and 
as Acting Governor of the State of Florida. Between the 
careers of Governor Branch and Governor Moseley, we may 
add, there was a striking similarity : both were native North 
Carolinians, both were graduates of the University of North 
Carolina, both had been Speakers of the State Senate of 
North Carolina, both had served as Governor of Florida, and 
both died on the same day. 

After the expiration of his term of office as Governor of 
Florida, Mr. Branch remained a resident of Tallahassee. He 
also spent much of his time at Enfield, his old home in North 
Carolina. He likewise paid frequent visits to the fashionable 
summer resorts of that day. On the 19th of January, 1851, 
he suifered the loss of his beloved wife, who passed away 
in the sixty-fourth year of her age, after a happy married life 
of nearly half a century. In referring to the devoted minis- 
trations of Governor Branch during the last illness of his 
wife, his granddaughter, Mrs. Eppes, says : 

"Mrs. Branch's health grew steadily worse. I have said that they 
were lovers to the last. She was very fond of flowers, and every 
morning Governor Branch plucked a few pink blossoms — clove pinks, 
if he could find them, but of a rosy hue always — and with his own 
hands pinned them in the dainty folds of the sheer white kerchief, 
which the fashion of that day prescribed for a married lady's adorn- 
ment. When at last she slept peacefully in her casket and he was 
called for a last look at the face which was so beautiful to him, he 



52 JOHN BRANCH 

turned away with a heart-broken sob, and in a few moments was back 
again with a cluster of tiny pink rosebuds, which he pinned on with 
trembling hands. As long as he lived he never failed at every visit 
to adorn her tomb with the bright-hued blossoms which she loved." 

After the death of Mrs. Branch, Governor Branch returned 
to his native State, and again took up his abode at Enfield. 
In depicting the closing years of his life, we again quote the 
narrative of Mrs. Eppes, who writes of her grandfather as 
follows : 

"Governor Branch never resigned his citizenship in North Carolina ; 
and, after his wife's death, he spent most of his time at the old home 
in Enfield, coming to Florida each winter for a short stay. Though it 
was the old home [at Enfield], it was a new house, the original build- 
ing with all its contents having been destroyed by fire. It was a most 
comfortable and commodious dwelling on a hill overlooking the sta- 
tion. A smooth lawn, with many shade-trees, led up to the house. On 
the right was a garden, a veritable bower of beauty ; and, on the left, 
a very fancy stable and barn were outlined against a splendid orchard 
of peaches and apples, while at the back, among other buildings, was 
an icehouse, all combining the beauties of fairy-land with practical 
uses. 

"Here he entertained his friends, for to him hospitality was one 
of the cardinal virtues, and here he made his children warmly wel- 
come, and urged strongly that some of them should live with him; 
but, at last, even his widowed daughter, Mrs. Read, married again 
and left him, so in the Winter of 1853 he was married to Mrs. Mary 
E. Bond, of Bertie — a lovely woman, who proved an admirable com- 
panion for his declining years. 

"Governor Branch's religious convictions were of the strongest, and 
he had the deepest respect for all things sacred. Late in life he 
united with St. John's Church in Tallahassee, and his confirmation 
service was a beautiful sight. Just before the morning service he 
walked alone up the aisle — tall, spare, and erect, with eyes of clear- 
est blue, and abundant hair of snowy whiteness. At the altar he 
was met by the Bishop of Florida, the Right Reverend Francis H. 
Rutledge. He, too, had snow-white hair, and in his robes was most 
imposing. The morning sun came stealing softly in; and, when 
Governor Branch knelt and the venerable Bishop placed his hands 
upon his head, the rays of the sun crowned them both with a halo 
of glory, and we, the spectators, felt that it was God's own benedic- 
tion on His good and faithful servants." 



JOHN BRANCH 53 

As might be expected o± a States' Rights Democrat of the 
Calhoun school, Governor Branch stood loyally by his native 
State when it seceded from the Union, and became a faithful 
citizen of the Confederate Government. He ministered un- 
ceasingly to the needs of those who had enlisted in defense of 
the South, and his purse was ever open to relieve the necessi- 
ties of the dependent ones they had left at home. By the 
hand of death he was spared the horrors of Reconstruction, 
but did not escape altogether the afflicting consequences of the 
war, for his favorite nephew (General Lawrence O'Bryan 
Branch) was slain early in the conflict, and other members 
of his immediate family were sharers of the dangers by which 
the land of their birth was beset. 

Governor Branch died at Enfield, in his native county of 
Halifax, North Carolina, on the 4th day of January, 1863. 
It was his good fortune to retain his mental and physical 
vigor to the last. The brief illness, which terminated his 
earthly career, was pneumonia, contracted while riding horse- 
back to direct the operations of an ice-plow. At a time when 
countless messages, by telegraph and mail, bore tidings of the 
death in battle of hundreds of the youngei generation of 
Southerners, the peaceful passing away of "an old man, 
broken with the storms of State," may not have attracted the 
attention of the country at large to such an extent as it would 
in more peaceful days, but his death was mourned sincerely 
by those who had known his worth. In commenting upon this 
event, the Raleigh Register, of January 14, 1863, said: "He 
bore the weight of years with more elasticity than any man 
we ever saw; for, when he had passed four-score years, his 
person was more erect and his step more springy than many 
a man of half his years could boast of. It may be truly and 
emphatically inscribed on his tombstone that he was a man 
of the most sterling integrity." In a Florida newspaper, pub- 
lished at the time of Governor Branch's death, there ia a 
tribute from an old acquaintance, who said : "Born at the end 
of the American Revolution, this aged patriot lived to wit- 



54 JOHN BRANCH 

ness the dissolution of the Union then formed, and to pass 
away amid the convulsions which now shake the continent." 
The same writer said of Governor Branch's political tenets: 
"A strict constructionist, he was ever sternly opposed to all 
encroachments upon the rights of the States and the people; 
and, though retired from public life, the influence and weight 
of his moral character and intellect were always given in re- 
sistence to the spirit of Northern fanatacism and lust of 
power, and in upholding the rights and liberties of his native 
South. A patriot of the early days, reared in an age made 
illustrious by the virtues of Macon, the genius of Randolph, 
and the patriotism of the associated statesmen of their day, 
he soon acquired a correct knowledge of the Constitution of his 
country and the structure of her Government, which, under 
the guidance of his liberal mind, enabled him to sustain him- 
self with honor in every contest and in every station he was 
called upon to fill." 

Several likenesses of Governor Branch are in existence. 
The one accompanying this sketch is from an oil portrait, in 
the Navy Department at Washington, which was copied from 
a minature painted by Anna C. Peale in 1818, during Mr. 
Branch's term as Governor of North Carolina. Another por- 
trait, painted later in life, hangs in the Hall of the Philan- 
thropic Society at the University of North Carolina. 

It is not the purpose of the present writer to attempt a 
eulogy, or even a studied portrayal of the character of John 
Branch. The foregoing pages give some record of his official 
actions in the various high stations which were conferred 
upon him, and those actions speak for themselves. They 
show that he was no time-serving politician, but a fearless, 
firm, wise, and patriotic statesman, whose fidelity to a public 
trust was never shaken by thirst for office (though many 
offices he had) or by any other selfish consideration. It may 
be truly said of him that — 

"He would not flatter Neptune for his trident, 
Or Jove for his power to thunder." 



JOHN BRANCH 55 

At one time it was the expressed wish of Governor Branch 
that he should be buried in Florida by the grave of the wife 
of his earlier years; but later, when his life's long journey 
was nearing its end, he declared his utter indifference on 
this point. "I am convinced," he said, "that this body is but 
as a worn out garment which we cast aside ; and that in the 
world of spirits, to which I am going, there are no limitations 
of time and space." And so, when the end came, the mortal 
remains of John Branch were laid to rest in the family burial 
ground at Enfield, within the bounds of the historic county 
which gave him birth. 

" 'Tis little : but it looks in truth 
As if the quiet bones were blest 
Among familiar names to rest 
And in the places of his youth." 



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